This holiday, my sister and brother-in-law came to visit from Texas with their brand new son — and my new best-est buddy — Noah. In every parent and family’s eyes, their child is probably the most beautiful to ever walk the Earth. It’s no different with us. He’s the cutest, happiest, baby I’ve ever known. Spending the holiday with him was without question the highlight of my year — (and truthfully, it was probably the highlight of the past few years.) During the time that my family drowned Noah with attention, I kept hearing the theme of how “cute” he was. And….well, he is. But looking to the future I began to worry. I began to worry about the psychological impact that an unbalanced amount of attention paid towards a child’s physical attributes can do to their development. I began to worry about an ego that, after having so many people focusing on your physical attributes during the crucial years of development, might end up becoming unbearable when these youthful years are gone. I thought about the anguish that a 13-year-old Noah would go through when his physical features began to change — shedding his boyish grin for a more manly chin and his rosy cheeks for ones with whiskers beginning to sprout from them. I think we can all recall when they stopped calling us cute. (Well, those of us that were unlucky enough to make that transition).
Little Miss Sunshine is a film that does many things well, but above all, it forces us to examine our concept of “beauty”. I don’t know the director or the writer, but I’m certain that they can relate to my caution towards my nephew. At a time when films are becoming more and more shallow, this film manages to deal with incredibly difficult topics in a wonderful and oddly unique way. Tony Collette and Greg Kinnear star as a late-thirtysomething couple whose relationship is far from perfect and who are trying to keep a family going as they raise two very unique children. Paul Cano and Abigail Breslin give noteworthy performances as brother and sister, Dwayne and Olive. Rounding out the cast are Alan Arkin, who co-stars as Kinnear’s war-hardened father and Steve Carell as an intellectual scholar whose “going through a bit of a crisis”.
The movie centers around a trip to California to enter Olive in a beauty contest to earn the title “Little Miss Sunshine.” The journey is quite a turbulent ride — pun completely intended, as their mode of transportation is a standard-shift Volkswagen bus. As with most great films (and this one is truly great) to give away too much of the plot would rob you of a great emotional experience.
If you’re looking for a knee-slapping, laughing good time, well….. you’ll get a few of those scenes here. But in order to get those, you’re going to need to get emotionally invested. And some of your “investment” is going to require some heartache. Each of the actors is going through his or her own personal struggle in life as they strive to reach a goal. One of the great things about this film is that while it was a bit fanciful in some of the ridiculously funny and silly capers that this bunch go through, I never felt as if the film was lying to me. I found myself tearing up during a few scenes in the movie. One scene in particular reminded me an awful lot of the relationship that I share with my younger sister.
I heard a lot of great things about this film and I resisted it because I thought it would be too silly. Thankfully, I was wrong. This is an incredibly special film. One word of warning — this film is a bit depressing. (At least it was for me.) Although the final title of the film ended up being “Little Miss Sunshine”, I’m certain that on the short list of alternate titles you’d have found “Things Fall Apart”. Life isn’t perfect. It’s not perfect as we live it and it’s definitely not perfect in this film. But the heartwarming thing that carries you through is getting to know these characters and watching and examining how dynamic and unselfish they become in the face of their own failure.
This is one of the best films of it’s kind that I’ve seen since The Squid and the Whale. If I had to choose, I’d probably go with The Squid and the Whale because it’s just so unique and fascinating to me. But this one is a close second (and on days when I need a good cry, it’s probably first.)
Don’t miss this one. Great story. Great acting performances. A few big laughs. And lots of heartache. You’ll be a better person for having watched this film.