No 402 - Little Miss Sunshine
Directors - Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Just before watching this film I watched Paper Heart. An adorable little quirkily funny Mockumentary starring king of the quirky comedies - Michael Cera. In it he describes the current trend in comedy when he hears that Paper Heart is a quirky comedy. Another quirky comedy, just what America needs. There are a lot of them out there that tiptoe the fine balance between tragedy and comedy or that are just a little bit more thoughtful or dysfunctional than play it safe comedies.
For me, the king of such films will always remain Wes Anderson who is a genius - but this is a ruddy good film in itself.
It starts off in classic Anderson-esque indie comedy territory with a plain white title in a plain yet slightly dated font. But there is also a wonderful streak of dark humour in the juxtaposition of the title and the depressed image of Steve Carrell's Frank recovering from a failed suicide attempt. Comedy wise the tone is a bit all over the place, and whilst it does start with the traditional dysfunctional family and quite a bit of black humour, the film quickly takes a far more slapstick path whilst dealing with some quite deep themes. After all this is about dealing with losing (I was going to say dealing with loss.... but it is not quite the same) - After all it is about a small girl going to a pageant. And whilst Abigail Breslin's Olive is wonderful, she is not really cut out for the freaky freaky world of children's pageants. So it is a road trip towards certain failure and it is marred with so many bonkers pits that the tone kind of flits around because yes this is a film about trying to chase your dreams (the point where Paul Dano's Dwayne realises he can't fight in the air force is heart breaking) but it is a pretty stupid farce. Thanks to one, brilliant, prop.
The van. That wonderful bright yellow van. By the end of the film it is a surprise that the thing is still rolling and the frustration it causes just brings the family closer together. For they are a faltering family, and really it is kind of because of Greg Kinnear's role as Richard, the father of the family, a father who is so obsessed with winning that his family are terrified of failing in front of him. It is seen in Dwayne's silent nihilistic rebellion and it is seen in the gut wrenching scenes where Olive bursts into tears worried that her dad won't love her if she doesn't win. He begins as a bit of a bastard (telling his daughter not to eat ice cream as she will get fat and not win the beauty pageant) but slowly softens thanks to the support of the rest of the family.
Because the journey gives them time to come to terms with life. Steve Carrell handles gallows humour brilliantly as he comes to terms with his depression and seems to get over it. Paul Dano (who I have always thought was brilliant. Even as Klitz) comes to terms with not being able to acheive his dreams and Richard realises there is more to life then winning.
And I'm glad that there is more to life than winning beauty pageants. Because this children's pageant thing is wrong on EVERY LEVEL.
Really really freaks me out - and it freaks out Olive's family who watch the show whilst she prepares backstage. I don't understand it, and parts of the pageant sequence makes me feel really uncomfortable (to think such a things exists). But it does give us an excellent cameo from the wonderful Beth Grant (playing essentially the same pageant loving bigoted character she played in Donnie Darko) and it gives one of the biggest, funniest andup beat endings ever.
Olive's final performance is so cringe worthy and so excellent and causes such pandemonium that you leave that film feeling much better than you went in. Which is surely the key role of comedies.