Little Miss Sunshine Reviews
misadventures) of an ordinary (or maybe not) family.
The cast don't deliver amazing performances as in this movie is the fast and twisty screenplay that does most part of the job.
And it's more than enough.
Each character strives to find a specific vision of success associated with certain ideologies or social roles. In the first two minutes of the film, the father of the household, Richard Hoover, pitches his self-help program, "9 Steps to Success", to an audience with unswerving reverence to the idea that "there are two kinds of people in this world: winners and losers" but that "inside each and everyone... is a winner waiting to be awakened". Richard in effect strives for the capitalist vision of success: not only is he an entrepreneur taking risks and willing to engage in competition to find success but the service he is trying to sell, motivational speaking, capitalizes on aspirations for self-improvement. Richard's conformist views are contrasted with his son's unorthodoxy. Dwayne envisions success as Friedrich Nietzsche imagined it: as an ubermench (in English it is often rendered as "overman"). Dwayne can be seen reading Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the opening sequence, he has a large portrait of Nietzsche in his bedroom and can even be seen wearing a shirt with "Jesus was wrong" written across; a reference to Nietzsche's quote "God is dead". Dwayne embodies the Dionysian spirit as he rejects the order thrust upon him by society as he despises the mundane life of his household and his determination to find glory surfaces in his constant exercise as a means of self-enhancement. He strives to join the Air Force Academy above all else, even keeping a vow of silence until he enters it and learns to fly over everyone else, literally become a person who is "over man". Sheryl Hoover at first glance embodies the ideal modern mother. She is the primary source of income for the family as Richard's life coach business is yet to take off and she also seems to have considerable influence over decision making in the household. She at the same time is a nurturing and open minded mother willing to explain difficult concepts to her daughter, Olive, such as suicide and homosexuality. Frank Ginsberg embodies intellectual success, as he is the self-proclaimed "preeminent scholar" of Marcel Proust. However the film reveals that upon inspection all the family members have trouble sustaining or attaining their success, causing them immense sadness and frustration.
This contrast is captured in the opening title sequence, which features Frank frowning, looking pale and sickly, and wearing a hospital gown in artificial and gloomy lighting juxtaposed with the title Little Miss Sunshine. Frank in spite of being on the surface very successful as a scholar is suicidal and "deeply unhappy" as he had a breakup with a younger man and in the resulting turmoil he lost his job, his title of preeminent Proust scholar and the affection of his ex-boyfriend to his rival. He reveals all of this to Olive while eating lunch with the rest of the family uncomfortably listening, allowing family tensions to surface revealing a family unit that is wholly dysfunctional. The uncomfortable discussion matter was juxtaposed with the warm sepia tones of the household and the bright natural lighting. The film challenges the other archetypes of success as well. The image of a kind hardworking mother gives way to Sheryl's barely contained frustration with the other members of the household. Sheryl is shown trying to sustain a strained relationship with her husband, Richard. Richard himself despite raving continually about success is projecting his insecurities because he is a failure as he doesn't have a stable job and instead of being a motivational speaker his speeches tend to be abrasive and preachy. It is only when his books were declared unpublishable that he hesitates to discuss success and because he ill-equipped to handle disappointment he starts becoming self-loathing and bitter for the remainder of the film. Dwayne is shown being dedicated and steadfast to his goal of flying aircraft but at the same time full of angst and anger. This is tension erupted when Dwayne discovered that he could not join the Air Force Academy as he is color blind and went berserk in the rear seat before screaming corrosive things to the rest of the family. All of these events capture the lack of fulfillment these ideologies or social roles have to offer those who subscribe to them. However the film makes the case that family, though imperfect, remedies disappointment through empathy and shared affection. The cheery sunlit hues that omnipresent in the film gives an atmosphere of cheeriness that incongruent with the obscene and sometimes dreadfully depressing moments in the story, but at the same time it highlights the idea of contentment and acceptance.
This tension between what society expects from the individual and what the individual desires is played out most spectacularly in Olive. Watching beauty pageants on television it is clear that society expects young girls like Olive to aspire to meet certain standards of beauty. However, Olive unlike most in the rest of her family is driven not primarily by success but by happiness. When given the choice between eating chocolate ice cream and staying thin for her performance at the child beauty pageant, Olive chooses to eat the ice cream because it makes her happy. The film makes her to be ideal girl as she shows no fault in her behavior for majority of the movie as she wasn't seen bickering with the rest of the family and the most troubling events are averted with her expressing her affection for others. However the child beauty pageant is filled with participants that are over sexualized even as children as most put on spray tan, lip-gloss and are extremely thin. Olive, completely ordinary for her age group, is made to feel abnormal when compared to the rest of the participants. However, Olive then satirizes the event by starting a strip tease, as children are allowed to be sexualized in ways that conform to the pageant's taste but overtly sexual themes such as strip teasing demystifies the underlying sexual nature of the event. Olive also chose what made her happy in spite of being kicked out of the event and with her family cheering her on and congratulating her on the way home, accepting her as she chooses to be.
Little Miss Sunshine reminds its audience that it is not necessary to find success to find happiness, and that the many of the visions of success given to us by society are often not worth having to begin with or worth defining self-worth through.
Little Miss Sunshine. By Michael A. Arndt. Prod. Marc Turtletaub. Dir. Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton. Perf. Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, and Toni Collette. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2006.