Little Miss Sunshine
No doubt you’ve heard of Little Miss Sunshine, but have you seen it? Should you see it? Well, if dysfunctional families who love each other and are trying to make sense and purpose out of life frighten you, then probably not.
On the other hand, if you appreciate real, earthy characters, and stories pulled from everyday life (well, almost), and road trips, then you’ll want to brighten your day by renting this DVD. Ironically, Little Miss Sunshine is anything but sunny. It’s imperfect characters are shaped by addiction to one thing or another, as are we all. Each character captures an “ism” or philosphy of life: Grandpa is addicted to heroin and sex (hedonism), Uncle Frank academia and a lost love/boyfriend (intellectualism), Dwyane silence and Neitszche (nihilism), Richard/dad motivational speaking (self-helpism), Sheryl/mom cigarettes and being all things to all members of the family (postmodernism), and finally Olive who is a composite character, part niave and part beauty queen (materialism). This motley crew of characters screams the question: Who is the glue or the solution to all these problems? [Feel free to comment]
Through the course of the film everyone’s solution to happiness is exposed for what it is–infinitely short of success. Grandpa’s hedonism leads to an lethal overdose, Richard’s therapeutic, you’re-a-winner-if-you-don’t-quit prospect of publishing crashes, Dwayne’s nihilsm and silence is broken by aviation school hopes dashed, Sheryl can’t keep the family afloat and has a melt down, Frank’s intellectualism and homosexual love is trounced by the second best Proust scholar, and Olive doesn’t win the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. Every philosophy fails.
At a turning point in the film, Frank calls upon his vast Proustian knowledge to cast light and hope onto Dwayne’s situation–“without the suffering years, the happy times mean nothing.” Suffering makes us better people if we embrace it. Is this the best we can hope for? That the loss of loved ones is really about us becoming better people? That our crushed hopes are really clandestine character builders? Character for what?! If life is just a mix of suffering and the mundane, making life shine a little more brightly I’m not too encouraged!
And what of Olive’s question? Where does Grandpa go when he dies? Is there a heaven? Does just believing in it qualify you for it? No doubt the film raises earthy and perennial questions in a moving and well-acted way. But what of the solutions, the saviors, the desires for happiness everyone is searching for? Are we to throw our hands in the air and just “count our blessings” or is there something more satisfying, more definitive, more lasting that will solve our crushed hopes and self-destroying addictions? Tell me, where can we find a little sunshine that will never stop shining?