Little Miss Sunshine by Michael Arndt
Little Miss Sunshine is one of the best films of 2006, indeed, it was nominated for the Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA in the category of Best Film of the Year and it won two Oscars and BAFTAs, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for Alan Arkin and Best Original Screenplay for Michael Arndt.
This is a fresh, creative, imaginative, entertaining, quirky, brave, worthwhile and amusing comedy-drama about a family that is often dysfunctional and yet finds a way to push together and support the Little Miss Sunshine aka the very precocious and talented Abigail Breslin, nominated for both the Academy Award and the BAFTA for her performance as Olive Hoover, the seven year old who wants to take part in a beauty pageant.
Toni Collette is excellent in the role of Sheryl Hoover, who is often the only sensible adult character, who has to cope with the insecurity and wrong plans made by her husband, the suicidal brother Frank Ginsberg, the peculiar, funny, but outlandish and heroin addicted grandpa Edwin Hoover and finally, her son Dwayne, who has taken a vow of silence and has a breakdown half way into the narrative.
Richard Hoover is played by the always exceptional Greg Kinnear, and he has developed a self-help and self-improvement technique in nine steps- this seems to be a stab at the industry that is supposed to make one so much better, bring achievement, often with ease and unearthly speed, that is most often a delusion, a scheme to fleece and get money from naïve customers.
The plan from the film might be feasible, even if it does not take off, Richard keeps calling the partner in this enterprise, Stan Grossman aka Bryan Cranston, without much success, because there is no signal for the telephony network, the man is absent and eventually, Stan says that the improvement technique would not work because of…its creator.
Frank Ginsberg says that he is the best American expert on Proust and this is a phenomenal achievement, given that Marcel Proust is considered by many- including the undersigned- to be the greatest writer, at least on a level with William Shakespeare and his chef d’oeuvre is a very long, magical, glorious, resplendent and radiant saga.
The Proust expert is homosexual- like his favorite author- he has just separated from his lover, and to this traumatic event one must add the fact that his rival has just been published and acclaimed as…Number one in the field of Proust!
Psychology studies have shown that after coping with adversity and trauma, many people- probably most- experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while some have the chance- and this is because they are more resilient- to have Post Traumatic Growth…it may be the case of Frank, but only later, because when confronted with this stress he tries to commit suicide.
There is a funny scene, when he meets his colleague in a gas station, where he was asked by Grandpa Edwin Hoover- the memorable Alan Arkin- to get some nasty pornographic magazines, which Frank tries hard to hide while pretending he is doing very well and the truth is he is so depressed…
The five adults and the girl are travelling to this beauty contest for children- a very inappropriate, offensive idea, which is rightly ridiculed and satirized by this film-and they try to come to terms with their issues, from drug addiction, through suicidal tendencies, vow of silence to feelings of inadequacy, failure.
Initially, there are some tensions and conflicts, Frank is thinking that the scheme concocted by Richard- achievement in nine steps – is ludicrous, like most if not all quick solutions to serious problems- and he is right in that- but given his attitude towards life and desire to end it, the suicidal man is not the best role model either.
Grandpa Edwin is perhaps the most pleasant, amusing of all, in spite or because of his habits-, the heroin addiction has had him expelled from the institution where he had resided- he has a very good relationship and empathy with Olive and they share a room on the road.
The van they use is an old model, legendary Volkswagen model- before they cheated on the value of the emissions of their cars- that has problems with the steering wheel, the horn and more seriously, cannot be moved from the parking spot unless everyone got out and pushed the car, only to run later and jump in the moving vehicle, offering spectators some very good moments, when the car cannot stop or the funny crew has to run for life after the yellow, good looking vehicle.
Alas, grandpa does not wake up one morning, in the motel where they had stopped along the road, they call the ambulance, but he dies at the hospital and they have to use the funeral services, burry him and that would mean losing the entry to the competition and all the effort with the failing van, the travelling for so many hundreds of miles would have been for nothing.
So they take a bold, outrageous decision to take the body, stealing it from the institution, place it in the trunk and they are very scared when a policeman stops them on the road and he insists on looking in the back, from where the porn magazines requested by the dearly departed fall to the ground and the lascivious man takes them away.
Dwayne reaches a nadir when he learns that he cannot become an airplane pilot, as he had intended, because color blind are eliminated out front and he has a collapse, stops the van, starts shouting and says that he hates each one, only to be soothed and brought back on track by little Olive.
They arrive at the weird, sick, unbelievable pageant for girls that are all dressed up, made up to look like adults, act, dance and sing for the bizarre, if not pathological pleasure of grownups that make such effort to create very disturbing, abusive ultimately premises for their children.
There are unexpected developments and the film has some healthy, humorous, sensible messages, it is not just a complex comedy, but also a motion picture that is educational and thought provoking.