Damn work. I'd have so much to blog about but no way I can do it with any regularity gettin' back home around 5.30 pm. There's a lot of stuff I'd like to address, and perhaps I'll soon do so in a single post, forcing myself to dedicate just a little time to everything. It's a possibility.
But tonight I'll write about Little Miss Sunshine.
) told me it was worth it. I was a bit diffident. I knew it was about this family taking their daughter to this beauty pageant and not much more, and it didn't sound all that enticing.
Boy I was wrong.
You notice it's not a pretty little comedy right from the start, with the music. That's not pretty little comedy music.
Then you see Olive mimicking a beauty pageant recording in front of her TV, going through the motions of the winner in her naturally childlike manner, and you get that not everything's right with it. She looks too obsessed. The music doesn't help.
Of course in the following minutes you're introduced to the rest of the cast. Edwin, her gramps, is snorting heroin. Richard, her father, is a sort of motivational speaker. You see him making his speech, a horrible and typical things about some 10 steps to be a winner in life, and not a loser. And then you see the speech was performed in a half-empty classroom and the reception is decidedly lukewarm. Then there's Dwayne, her brother, doing push-ups in his room, ticking off boxes from a paper hanging on a wall (and reading Nietzsche). Sheryl, her mom, is driving in the traffic to reach her brother Frank, who cut his wrists attempting and failing suicide and is now to be taken in her cares.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it? It's like Chekhov's guns all over the front lawn. Well, yes, those triggers are gonna be pulled.
Sheryl takes her brother home. In theory Dwayne should take care he doesn't try to kill himself a 2nd time, only problem -Dwayne hates everyone, as he later specifies, and has vowed silence till he can go to pilot school to fly a jet, communicating only through handwriting. Edwin, Olive's grampa, is extremely foul-mouthed and it shows when he discovers the dinner is not much more than chicken and salad, as always apparently, because Sheryl's overworked, and the only one to bring home a seemingly stable wage of any kind. Richard, Olive's father and Edwin's son, shuts him up -Olive's sitting at the table too. She notices Franks' wrappings, around his wrists, and asks what it is.
Sheryl's OK with her bro explaining, but Richard absolutely doesn't want him to. Sheryl wins and Frank explains. He was the most valued Marcel Proust teacher in, like, the whole of the US of A, he had a homosexual relationship with one of his students who he probably still loves, the guy left him for another Marcel Proust teacher who then went on to publish a book and received a huge award after Frank was fired, there ya go. Of course Richard doesn't approve of the disclosure, and hastens to add that's the behaviour of a loser. He always speaks about losers and winners. He obviously wants to be a winner, deludes himself into thinking he's a winner, forces Olive to be a winner, whatever. The guy comes off as a huge di** at this point in the film, and you sorta understand Dwayne's decision to retreat from this damn dysfunctional family.
Of course right there comes Olive's big occasion. They're gonna have this Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in a couple days, in California... a little far from Albuquerque, where they live. But she desperately, enthusiastically wants to go. She's ready. Sheryl wants to take her there. Richard wonders how they're gonna do it, then decides he'll take them both. Of course Gramps Edwin will go too -it's him who's training her. What about Frank, who'll take care of him? He sure can't stay home alone w/Dwayne. Actually Frank's apparently the least messed up of the bunch, and he says he'll go too. They convince Dwayne to go promising him pilot school in exchange, to which he reluctantly agrees.
So they take their old yellow VW bus and go.
Gramps Edwin sometimes bursts out with some stream of profanity and advice for poor Dwayne, who'd probably prefer a quick death. They have a break to eat something and Olive orders ice cream, uncle Frank's being cool and humorous and clever so Richard stops him dead in the tracks and warns Olive that ice cream will make her fat and thus, a loser -luckily the others manage to persuade her to eat her ice cream nontheless. At this point the hostilities between Richard & Frank are running high, Richard keeps going on and on about his stupid job and as soon as he detects irony in Frank's half-assed comments he launches into a tirade about what a real f**kin' loser he is (we got the message, Richard, we're losers, now go f**k off). The bus breaks and for the rest of the film it can only be started by pushing it and then climbing on while it's going (this is fun actually, and often provides good-paced comic relief). They have another break and against any reasonable odds Frank meets his ex, a decidedly awkward situation, made all the worse by the fact this guy's there with the other teacher and they practically bully him before going away, even if just in passing by... and they also forget little Olive, so they get back to get her without ever stopping -otherwise the bus will need to be pushed again (see? Comic relief! It -is- quite funny, actually).
They finally reach a place to crash. They carry all of their damn baggage to the rooms. And oh look, Karma! Richard's higher-up, whom he's been trying to contact for, like, forever, finally contacts him back... and tells him the deal is over. Essentially, no more motivational speaking, and probably no money whatsoever. Richard & Sheryl fight in their room. In the next room, Frank is in a rather lousy mood considering his meeting with his ex, but a creepy smile slips onto Dwayne's lips as he listens to the discussion... I think he's happy his stupid father lost his stupid job. While in the 3rd room Gramps Edwin shows his genuinely good, heart-warming side to Olive, who's damn worried about the pageant, thinks she won't win, is scared her father won't love her anymore if she loses (obviously), but he uses wisdom and humour to alleviate her anxiety and make her smile. This is Edwin's crowning moment of awesome, to use a TVTrope idiom. It will also be his last.
Richard decides to go and face his boss in the flesh -he's only a little more than 20 miles away, but the bus betrays him, so he borrows a crappy tiny bike and goes, finds him at a classy hotel, confronts him to no real effect and is forced to leave -but not before asserting that he won't give up, 'cuz only a loser gives up. I hope he's thinking of Olive, of his family, at that moment, but I wouldn't bet.
Thus the night passes. The morning after, gramps Edwin won't wake. At the hospital there's a heart-warming moment when Sheryl tries to explain what's happening to Olive but gets all teary-eyed and starts crying, and Dwayne writes to his little sister -go hug mom- , which she does. But yeah, gramps = dead (quite sure it was the heroin, but it's not explicitely confirmed AFAIK). And there's all manner of forms to fill, and this'll take days, and so on. In the end Richard decides the priority, even for his just-passed-away dad's sake, is to take Olive to the pageant. After some obvious resistance he obtains the collaboration of the others in smuggling the corpse to the bus and they hit the road again -with the body in the trunk.
Then the horn breaks, and it keeps going, and a cop pulls them over and, Richard's protests notwithstanding, opens the trunk -but the 1st thing he finds is late Edwig's porn, he just takes it and leaves them alone without even noticing the white funerary shroud underneath. At this point they're nearly there, they can do it after all. But one of the guns is still loaded, and there's a name on the bullet -Dwayne.
Olive's playing with some stuff she picked up at the hospital. She shows one of those red & green polka-dots colorblindness tests to Dwayne, just for s**t & giggles. And he can't read it. He can't figure out what number it is. Frank falls silent. Then, after Dwayne insists to know why all the fuss, he tells him. I didn't remember, personally, but of course your sight must be perfect to be a pilot -they don't take you in if you're colorblind.
Dwayne dies inside. He tries to demolish the already worn-out bus with his bare hands from the inside, forcing the family to stop, storms out and down a slope and lets go his first word since the beginning of the movie, possibly even since he took his vow of silence.
-FUUUUUUU**!!- he howls repeatedly.
They try to reason with him, but to no avail. The guy's shocked. All he's lived for till now was just a dream -welcome back to the harsh reality of your life, dude. And harsh it is, as he screams how much he hates them all and the conditions they're in. Of course at this point Olive will have to be taken to the pageant anyways, but they can't leave him there, alone. Uncle Frank volunteers to stay with him, but then Olive goes down the slope, slowly, cautiously, stepping near him, almost tip-toeing... and hugs him. Perhaps the trick he himself taught her when mom was sobbing in the hospital. In the end, it works. They go back to the bus. Since the terrain's rugged and he doesn't want her to fall, he picks her up and carries her. He sorta apologizes.
Perhaps he doesn't really hate them all so much.
They manage to get to the pageant with some driving stunts worthy of Bruce Willis (not really, but fun nonetheless) only to discover that they're, like, 4 minutes late -but Richard breaks one of his winner rules and begs for entrance on behalf of Olive, and it works.
So the contest starts.
And it's horrible. The little girls all wear make up and don bathing suits and move like tiny, too young whores. Their parents love it and clap their hands heartily. A guy who could very well be a child molester by looks alone hosts the show, and he's a slimy damn thing. Our heroes don't look exactly enthusiastic, but they press on. Olive looks quite out of place among the others. She's innocent, simple, wholesome, and they have become tools of their parents, of the industry, of society. Someone says that portrayal was exaggerated. Can be, but this doesn't sound all that encouraging.
As if that weren't enuff the girls are quite talented. They perform some rather nasty tricks -dancing, singing, the works. They're really good. And in their own artificial, much appreciated way, prettier than Olive, better dressed, and so on. When Dwayne & uncle Frank see this they want to stop Olive from going, because these people are clearly fuc**ed up in the brain and they don't want her to show off like some circus animal (and don't even get me started on circuses that still use animals). Eventually (after handling his dad's funeral arrangements) even Richard goes backstage and asks Sheryl to retire Olive, but for a different reason -she'll lose. And as much as this might seem obvious from Mr. Winner Guy, it seems he's genuinely concerned about her -they could actually really react badly to her performance and that might leave very deep scars... most of all after all his talks of winning, winning, winning, might I add.
Sheryl understands, but she's a good mom. She asks a rather crestfallen Olive if she really wants to do it. She explains she doesn't have to. In the end Olive decides to give it a try.
Her show is a sort of burlesque -after all it was her gramps who taught her those moves- and it's quite pathetic. But while the other girls, with the sinister, subtle sexual hints of their performances, received nothing but accolades, Olive's funny, completely shameless, childlike exuberance earns her almost nothing but scorn. They even want to take her away from the stage before she's finished -but Richard won't let them, and perhaps in what might be seen as his final redeeming moment he wants her to go on until it's over -she does indeed look like she's having a lot of fun- and even jumps up on stage to dance with her. Followed by uncle Frank, then Dwayne, and finally by Sheryl, all evidently enjoying it, smiling, laughing, like it were a party, celebrating Olive, the glue that keeps them together -who does look quite ecstatic.
Of course Olive loses, and they have to promise not to take her to any other beauty pageant in California -ever, ever, EVER again. But at this point they don't give a f**k, climb back up in their wreck of a bus and ride into the sunset.
Quite surreal experience. Worth every second, though. The acting was solid, the directing was attentive, the characters, interesting and quirky and human, the story, actually surprising. It's a very good movie. It makes you think, laugh, frown, worry. You end up caring about these peeps. It's a great, great misadventure, a bitter-sweet, tragicomic road trip in self-discovery territory. The good news are -don't worry about winning or losing, just enjoy it, for what it's worth. The bad news? Well, life can really suck, people can be stupid and horrible and greedy, you can be dirt poor and not able to do all that much about it if you don't f**kin' think. And a lot more. I don't see it as a feel-good movie. It's funny. It's also sad. It's quirky. And fascinating. In its surrealism it feels quite real. The circumstances can be extreme, but the characters are human beings. Not just clichès. They change. They're complex. So no, it's not a feel-good... it's a road trip. It's black comedy. Most of all... it's authentic. Real.
Watch Little Miss Sunshine even if you don't think it's your cup of tea -if you're like me (which you're probably not, but that's not the point) you'll be pleasantly, and unpleasantly, but always -deeply- surprised.