Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dysfunction, Yet Loving

Okay, I'm on the late freight with this one, but I saw "Little Miss Sunshine" last night on DVD and it was a good movie. One of those movies I wish I saw on the big screen. Yet "Little Miss Sunshine," directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris has that unsettling feeling to it where you want to laugh, but some how feel its inappropriate to do so. This movie places you in that state and doesn't let you go.

The movie is about a family's journey from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Redondo Beach California for the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Contest. The trip becomes a farcical, yet a bittersweet epic journey as the family struggles through its own dysfunction and tragedy to realize the importance, however messy it is, of family.

Each character has their flaws laid bare for the audience to see. The father,Richard(Greg Kinnear), tries to make it as a motivational speaker, but is totally ineffectual and impotent not only as a 'motivational speaker, but as a father and husband. As he spouts his "9-steps to success" he continually fails at everything he does, including his hopes of making it.

Grandpa, played excellently by Alan Arkin, snorts heroine yet seems the most normal as he interjects his elderly wisdom and bitterness on the family. One of the most touching scenes in the movie is when Grandpa tells little Olive (played movingly by Abigail Breslin), that she is the most beautiful girl as she struggles with her own insecurities.

The mother, played by Toni Colette, is hurried and rushed, as she tries to take care of her brother, Frank (Steve Carell), who was released to her care after a failed suicide attempt over losing his male love interest and his position as the #1 Proust expert in the country to an academic rival.

The son, Dwayne (Paul Dano), reads Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence until he is accepted into the Air Force Academy to become a test pilot. He's the bitter teen who sees the disfunct in his family, yet adds to its dysfunction as he tries to separate himself from it.

Watching the family struggle through its dysfunctionality is at times painful. For example, when Richard doesn't get the book deal he hopes will bring him success, and Frank stumbles into his ex-love interest, the whole family is so caught up into their own sickness that when the vans leaves the gas station they forget little Olive. Yet the scene is hilarious as they go back to pick Olive up, yet they can't stop so she has to run and hop in the van. It's a funny scene, yet at the same time you shake your head in disbelief at the thought of forgetting your own child because you're so rapped up into yourself.

But there are many scenes in the movie that stumble into the realm of the surreal. Yet the one part of the movie that has a hint of truth to it is in fact the most disturbing part. You feel disgusted at what takes place on the screen. The fictionalized beauty pageant gives a feeling of voyeurism to a world that is indeed sick and twisted. The family, even in their dysfunctional state, sees the twisted nature of the Little Miss Sunshine pageant and in the end comes together as a family in defense of little Olive.

Little Miss Sunshine is a touching, absurd movie that give you a touch of the real in a surreal package. The desultory characters provide you with insight into some of our own charater flaws. We want to laugh at their faults and mistakes, yet at some level we are uncomfortable because we know we are laughing at ourselves.