Film Reviews

“Everybody Just Pretend to be Normal, Okay?”

Lizzy Marriott will be reviewing the 2006 comedy/drama Little Miss Sunshine. The film was highly praised when it first came out over ten years ago, but has the sun set on its relevance and popularity?

Little Miss Sunshine (2006), follows the Hoover family on an unexpected trip to a child’s beauty pageant so the youngest family member, seven-year-old Olive, has a chance to compete and win the competition.

The film won numerous titles including two Academy awards for best original screenplay, and best supporting actor for Alan Arkin who plays the Grandad. Little Miss Sunshine embodies a refreshing take on an American family, by reflecting ‘rebellious’ characters who don’t fit the normal conventions of society.

The film is highly character driven involving six quirky protagonists. A Grandad who was removed from a retirement home due to inappropriate sexual behaviour and drug use, a dad who is ironically an unsuccessful motivational speaker and a mother who feels the stress of making her dysfunctional family normal. There is also a teenage son who’s only focus is in being a pilot and avoiding interaction with his embarrassing eccentric family, an uncle who failed to commit suicide after his lover chooses to be with another man and is subsequently fired, and finally a daughter whose dream is to win a beauty pageant despite not having the cliché looks of most people’s typical definition of beauty.

The first twenty minutes of the film involves introducing all six characters, by making the audience aware of each of their distinctive behaviours and of their goals. The first shot shows Olive re-watching the same clip of a lady winning a beauty pageant, while she mimics her behaviour, clearly showing her obsession.

The film follows Olive from having these desires, to her doubting herself and her beauty. In one particular scene when backstage at the beauty pageant and is alone, she looks at herself in the mirror. Her expression shows her contemplating as she breaths in making herself thinner so she looks more like the other pageant contestants. When her mum asks her “Olive honey, are you okay in there?”, she replies hastily “yeah I’m fine”, in a way not at all convincing to the audience. These subtle moments show the realism portrayed in the film, allowing the audience to relate to the six protagonists.

Throughout the film we see the emotional darkness of these characters, which is balanced beautifully with the dark humour it produces so naturally. In the end we see Olive embrace herself without needing to win a beauty pageant, instead she brings her family together and having them support her is enough. Bringing family together is an undertone for the entirety of the film; the road movie genre generally gives the view it’s not the destination but the journey, and it’s the journey to self-discovery and self-acceptance that is the true goal to happiness. Although this message can be seen as cheesy in other films, it is done in a way that is interesting enough to simply be purely enjoyable to watch, instead of cringing at the screen.

I mean watching a young girl performing completely inappropriate dance moves to Rick James’ song ‘Super Freak’ at a child’s beauty pageant, as the parents in the audience watch in horror, is a spectacle that is worth witnessing. Trust me. But the way Olive’s dad comes on stage, with the initial order to remove her, but begins dancing with her instead as her uncle, brother, and mum join her is so heart-warming that whatever slight innovations you might have about the controversial nature of it suddenly disappears and you just want to join in.

All the characters are eccentric to an extent, but they show realistic flaws and dreams making them surprisingly relatable. This is one of the reasons I believe makes this film so popular. These characters are so authentic none of them really standout from the outside, but by seeing them in the inner twists and turns of their family dynamic, it’s their personality that makes them noticeable. Something which I think is so refreshing. It’s not a high vision extravaganza, but a personality spectacle that enables you to feel part of this weird family, and you’re strangely glad to be a part of it.

 

Despite the films marvellous way of going against the boring norms of society it does show an out-dated relationship between the two parents – the stereotypical man concerned with his work and the mum constantly pre-occupied with the children. For instance, at the pageant show when everyone is concerned about Olive, Dwayne says to his mum, “you’re the mum and you’re supposed to protect her”, despite his dad standing right next to him. Would it hurt for him to say “you’re the parents and you’re supposed to protect her”, to both of them?

The film represents a wide range of characters in detail that are somehow loveable despite all their faults, and it is significant that all the problems these characters have in the beginning of the film are still there – nobody went through a miraculous transformation, but they confront those problems and unite as a family.

Despite dealing with serious issues such as death, the loss of dreams, and depression, the film is also a comedy and able to show even in times of sadness there can be moments of laughter. In one of my favourite scenes, acted wonderfully by Steve Carell and Paul Dano, Dwayne sums up the films underlining message saying, “Life is one f**king beauty contest after another. Ya know? School, then college, then work. F**k that… ya know you do what you love and f**k the rest.”

Little Miss Sunshine shows the upsetting truths of life without making the film bleak. Instead it is a feel-good film for the audience as they watch this unusual family become stronger through each hurdle they face.