Little Miss Sunshine
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Written by Michael Arndt
I have seen this movie I think only once before, at the cinema when it first came out. It’s a very Wes Anderson kind of film, a slow surreal slice of life about a kooky family. Richard is absolutely the worst character, he’s a self help speaker who brings his winner/loser talk home to his family to body shame his 7 year old daughter. Frank, played by Steve Carell is introduced as having just tried to kill himself, Toni Collette plays the harassed voice of reason. Abigail Breslin is stunning in her role as Olive, the would be beauty pageant queen. I want to say that it’s her breakout role but of course she had also been in Signs and a few other things. Paul Dano is probably my favourite character though, one of his few non-creepy roles as Dwayne, the teenage boy who is so emo he stopped talking.
Frank: Who is that? Nietzsche? So you stopped talking because of Friedrich Nietzsche? Far out.
Olive’s fascination with the beauty pageant is pretty understated – the talk about ice cream, and her later following up with her grandfather about how afraid she was of failing and letting her father down, in fact of her father hating her is sort of concluded in two ways; she speaks to Miss California and has it confirmed that she can eat ice cream and also in the pageant itself where she is the ‘normal’ girl performing against actual pageant contestants to highlight how made up, coiffed and highly trained they all are. Her little girl puppy fat is shown to be the weird odd one out, but also definitely the one we’re meant to see as normal and healthy. This is subverted pretty intensely when her talent proves to be totally inappropriate and adult.
I’m not entirely sure what point this is meant to be saying except that maybe it doesn’t actually matter. If Olive can compete as is in the beauty pageant and strut her stuff with her family cheering her on, maybe it doesn’t matter if she loses or what beauty even is.
Dwayne sums is up nicely: ‘Life is one beauty contest after another… you do what you love and fuck the rest.’
Does it make me love the people?
It does. I still find it hard to like Richard at all, but I think this is the role I enjoy Steve Carell in the most. He’s a senstive, emotional gay man who pays attention to the emotional teenage boy, who listens to him and understands him in a way that no one else in his family even tries to.
I feel a lot of love for Dwayne and Sheryl as well. Olive is generally not so much a realised character, or the Grandfather – they’re more caricatures. But that said, Olive is the driving force of the movie and also the binding glue of the family. When Dwayne breaks down over being colour blind Olive is the one who comforts him and convinces him to come back into the bus.
Bechdel test: Yes, Olive and Sheryl talk several times, one example is when Olive asks how much they can spend at the diner and Sheryl replies about $4. There are other instances dotted all over the film though. Also Sheryl talks on the phone to Cindy about the Little Miss Sunshine pageant and Olive.
Richard: Sarcasm is the refuge of losers.
Frank: [sarcastically] It is? Really?
Richard: Sarcasm is losers trying to bring winners down to their level.
Frank: [sarcastically] Wow, Richard, you’ve really opened my eyes to what a loser I am. How much do I owe you for those pearls of wisdom?
Richard: Oh, that ones on the house.
State of Mind: I actually kind of, yeah I love this movie. I totally get how it wouldn’t be everyone’s taste and it probably goes darker than it strictly needs to for the sake of the story but eh. I ultimately really like these characters. Maximum cringe at the pageant sequence though.