Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine

A frequent reader has asked, "Is it possible both to be intelligent and to like Little Miss Sunshine? Explain."
My answer depends on the definition of "like." Yes, this is a bit Clintonesque, but bear with me. We all have a desire to enjoy ourselves, please friends, and be nice to others. Movies like Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine take advantage of this fact by making it easy to enjoy the experience of watching a movie with others: they make it clear when we are supposed to feel bad for a character, when we are supposed to laugh at them, and when we should turn to one another and smile.
Like a sitcom with canned laughter, this can be good at times and horrible at others. In the case of Little Miss Sunshine, things get a little to manipulative. It's clear to everyone in the movie theater that we're supposed to laugh (but also cry) when the fat, ugly little girl does her silly little dance at the end, but, I, for one, had had enough of knowing exactly how I should feel before I felt it by this time in the movie.
The directors of LMS, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, are famous for their music videos and commercials. I think this shows in the movie. Commercials and, to a lesser extent, music videos should be direct and make a clear point about what they're trying to say. There's simply not enough time for subtlety or contradictions. But a full-length movie should be a bit more sophisticated. There's room for subtlety and tension. It was obvious in the first five minutes of Little Miss Sunshine (as soon as Greg Kinnear opened his idiot mouth) that the message would be something about "success not meaning everything." But in addition to the failures of Kinnear's character, we have the ridiculous spectacle of Steve Carrell and his gay lover, the all-too predictable tragedy of the misunderstood, Nietzsche-reading, Air Force-aspiring high school student, the wailings of a wife who is trying hard but failing, and so on.
In summary, Little Miss Sunshine can be seen as an extremely lengthy commercial for understanding, caring, and treating each other and ourselves with compassion. Some people go into a movie theater looking for precisely this kind of film: something they can just watch passively and at which they can laugh along with others. In fact, I can imagine enjoying this kind of film in the company of small children or elderly people. If this is what you mean by saying that someone "likes" LMS, then I guess the answer is that they are not necessarily stupid. But let's not pretend that this movie is profound or artful. It doesn't say anything unique, and it doesn't convey its message particularly well.


Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Is it too much to ask that people who like to be tremendously entertained at the movies, to occasionally be able to watch a movie without looking for any deep message and still leave the theater with a smile on their faces not be called stupid? Sheesh

1:42 PM  
Blogger Austin 5-000 said...

First of all, relax. You're going to have to develop a thicker skin if you want to survive the Internet. You may not be an idiot--perhaps you could provide an explanation of why you think the film is worthwhile.
So what exactly entertained you in this film? The predictable road-trip-with-disasters plot? The cookie-cutter characters? The trite message?
What surprised you in this film? What made you smile? I just don't get it, and the comments I hear, like your own, aren't very convincing. Articulate your position and we'll talk.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Josh said...


If LMS isn't indie enough for you, I don't know what is... Maybe there's a black-and-white film on the internet that can do the trick.

(Let the record show that I have not yet seen LMS.)

8:13 AM  
Blogger The Sheriff said...

I enjoy the idea of surviving the internets.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Robot said...

I am an Orioles fan, too, and understand your need for escapism after nine straight losing seasons. That said, austn's right. The movie dissapoints.

10:55 AM  

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