Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why Try When You Can De-Fy!: Another Look at Little Miss Sunshine

Okay, I give up. What lesson are we supposed to learn from Little Miss Sunshine, anyway?

Beauty contests are stupid?

Child beauty contests are stupid?

Any type of contest that has any possibility of failure is stupid?

Is the true lesson of LMS compassion for losers?


But if so, then why is there so little compassion displayed in the movie for those who help losers? The haughty lady who allowed the movie's young protagonist (Olive) to enter the Little Miss Sunshine child beauty contest at the last minute isn't depicted as someone trying desperately to be fair to the other contestants but as an uppity so-and-so who deserves to be punished. And the father who moves heaven and earth to make sure Olive makes it to the contest in time is depicted as being far less likable than the more kindly relatives who do little to help -- and much to hinder -- her from even making it there.

The compassion displayed by the makers of this movie seems reserved solely for those members of Olive's family who don't really want her to win but resent like hell the implication that they're helping her to lose. Thus we get the compassionate grandfather who really loves Olive yet teaches her a dance routine that would have lost her the beauty contest under any circumstances. We get the mother who wants to get Olive to the contest yet can't resist indulging herself with a free driving lesson because she suddenly finds it more important to prove her ability to drive the family van than to get her daughter where she needs to go on time. (A driving lesson that ultimately ruins the family van and forces the family to seek a less than perfect vehicle for their journey.) Then there is the sullen teenaged brother who loves his sister Olive yet hates his family. (Apparently he doesn't consider Olive to be part of his family. Now that's a heartwarming sentiment.) The brother professes a love for flying and the philosopher Nietzsche but doesn't seem to be all that convincing in his enthusiasm for either. (Indeed, the flying obsession just seems like an excuse for the brother to throw a hissy fit at a key moment in the movie.) Finally there is the gay uncle who doesn't really do a damn thing to help Olive (apart from encouraging her to eat ice cream) but that's okay because he's still better in the eyes of the filmmakers than the father (mentioned above) who bends over backwards trying to ensure that Olive has a way to get to the contest on time.

Okay, I could have summed up the movie in a more charitable fashion, but I don't feel all that inclined to be all that charitable toward this movie. Yes, it is funny at times -- but not as funny as the reviews would have you believe -- and its type of “compassionate” humanism has an element of phoniness that is not necessarily eliminated by describing it as a satire.

LMS seems to scorn the whole idea of effort. The whole game is rigged against us all, anyway, the movie suggests, so why try when you can de-fy! Ay, Dios! This might seem like an excellent philosophy if you're already part of the middle class and don't really have to struggle for a living, but if you come from the type of poor, working-class background my mother and father did, this philosophy seems like little more than a recipe for remaining poor forever.

Let's face it. Some people have to work harder than others to achieve their goals and there used to be a time when movies respected that. However, we seem to be so afraid of insulting people who deserve to be insulted that we don't mind at all giving a slap in the face to everyone who has had to work their way out of poverty like my parents did.

I have no love for the Zig Ziglars of the world who mindlessly worship material succcess and chant shallow catchphrases like “see you at the top.” But I also have little affection for those who prefer to encourage society's “losers” to stay losers -- those “good” folk who see no problem in encouraging the poor to stay poor, the uneducated to stay uneducated and the weak to stay weak. There used to be a time when such good people saw it as their responsibility to help encourage people to be the best that they can be instead of just settling for the bare minimum. And I can't help but find it odd that so many critics who pride themselves on empathizing with the down-and-out show no shame in championing movies that theoretically encourage the down-and-out to stay down-and-out forever.

Would I want my own niece to enter the real-life equivalent of a Little Miss Sunshine Contest? No. However, if she did choose to enter such a contest despite my advice, I would like to think that her kinfolk and I would make more of an honest effort to help her than most of the people in this film helped Olive. But then I would like to think that any decent person would.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home