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Little Miss Sunshine

A great comedy, which is a rare treat these days. Plenty of laughs to be had with this one.

A dysfunctional Albuquerque family of six pile into a VW bus with a bunk clutch to drive seven hundred miles to California so that their seven-year-old daughter can compete in the “Little Miss Sunshine” beauty pageant that she’s earned a spot in after a finalist drops out. It’s a delicious satire on the absurdity of these types of contests where selfish mothers dress up their second grader as Jon Benet Ramsey in an effort to vicariously live a life of adoration that their own plastic souls never had the chance to experience.

On the way home from the flick I was connecting some dots in my head. The six main characters (the struggling motivational speaker father Richard and his heroin addicted WWII vet father, his wife, her gay suicidal brother Frank, her adolescent color blind son with a hopelessly doomed air pilot dream, and the couple’s seven-year-old Olive) with all their quirks provided a stage of unlimited relationship possibilities. One interesting aspect I noticed throughout the film was the constantly shifting Mentor/Mentored relationships, where each of the six characters played the role on both sides of the equation. Namely:

  • Richard (mentor to everybody, mentored by his wife)
  • Grandpa (mentor to Olive and son, mentored by Frank)
  • Wife (mentor to Richard, mentored indirectly by her son)
  • Frank (mentor to son, mentored by Olive)
  • Son (mentor to Olive, mentored by Frank)
  • Olive (mentor to Richard, mentored by Grandpa)

I’ll give it four out of five stars with a recommendation. The only thing I’d really be critical of was the ending, which felt a little contrived and flat, and overlooked a few opportunities.


When Olive was about to take the stage for her portion of the talent competition, I was on the edge of my seat. I was waiting for her to pull something out of her bag of tricks of truly admirable value, such as a cool magic show or perhaps a kick-ass tap dancing routine. Something surprising. Something wowing. Something that would truly set her apart from all the talentless Ramsey wannabes.

Instead, she launched into a dance routine to Rick James’ Superfreak, which in a very unbelievable way sent the place in an uproar. Come on. It wasn’t THAT bad. Seriously, was this really enough to throw the entire family in jail? Maybe if Kinnear was naked.

I suppose the message left with us on this one is that “families, despite their differences, need to stick together”, or something like that. OK, that’s cool. But a little weak.

I would’ve liked something stronger, where Olive reached deep down and proved that there’s more to a person than a pretty face. Anything. She could’ve juggled, she could’ve told jokes, she could’ve leveraged her differences to change the views on what beauty is. Or at least make us think about it.

Instead, when it was all said and done, I left the theater feeling that Olive really wasn’t that different from all the other talentless contestants. Just a little chubbier, with a humorously odd family from Albuquerque.

2 comments… add one
  • luke September 5, 2006, 12:13 pm

    i thought the ending was completely satisfying. forget the mentor / mentored relationships, because this is an ensemble film.

    the reason i enjoyed this movie so much is because the theme, which i think you sidestepped a bit is such a great one. namely: is winning everything? this theme, and a study on our culture obsessed with winning, is deeply explored throughout the movie.

    i enjoyed how they portrayed everyone, most explicitly richard, frank, and the son, becoming a loser. immediately after they realize their failure, they each hit a rebound.

    the two most poignant parts of the film: olive and grandpa’s conversation in the hotel room. “do you think i’m pretty? daddy hates losers.” she doesn’t care about losing as we see it, she’s worried about losing her dad’s love. second part, after the son freaks out. the mom says “what is there to say? we just have to wait.” olive goes and hugs him. (notice the gorgeous shot framed the same way as the scene in the beginning where richard tells olive it’s not worth the trip unless she thinks she can win). that’s all she had to say; he’s ready to go.

    i think this couldn’t have ended much stronger. the whole movie is reframing the idea of talent and winning. to want olive to prove that she is a beauty queen, or exceptionally talented would be to weaken the strength of that thematic reframing, in my opinion.

  • jaced.com September 5, 2006, 12:53 pm

    The movie’s numbers show that many agree with you. The film’s finale is probably one of the most popular payoffs in recent history.

    Not sure why a study of the individual relationships should be disregarded due to the “ensemble film” label. That’s like disregarding a base hit by virtue of the fact that baseball’s a “team sport”.

    I suppose the “winning isn’t everything” theme is valid. But really, aren’t we left with the message that Olive is a winner in her own unique way? And the rest of the ensemble, for that matter? Or are we to think of them as happy losers?

    What’s the point of a rebound if there’s no victory? Rebound to what, exactly?

    I would’ve liked to see Olive set it up with 30 seconds of something before the Rick kicked in. Maybe some of Grandpa’s jokes. Give ’em a real reason to call the cops.

    Seen the Mike Judge flick?

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