Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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16 Apr 2007

A Film Review: Little Miss Sunshine

lmsI appreciate that reviews of films that don’t contain the word “Crude” or “Peak” in the title are somewhat unusual at **Transition Culture**. I also appreciate that I am rarely a member of the cinema-going public, and usually only get to see films when they emerge on DVD. However, recently I saw the recently-out-on-DVD film Little Miss Sunshine which was so wonderful and which, in unexpected ways, overlaps with many of the themes explored here.

Jeff Otto over at IGN Movies summarises the plotline of the film thus;

>The Hoover family has its share of problems. The father, Richard (Greg Kinnear), is desperately trying to get a new motivational nine-step program out to the public. His son, Dwayne (Paul Dano), has taken a vow of silence as an homage to Nietzsche until he gets into the Air Force Academy. The grandfather (Alan Arkin) redefines the term “dirty old man” recommending a life of meaningless sex with lots of women to his grandson in-between snorting large amounts of heroine. Frank (Steve Carell) is the brother-in-law, who has recently tried to commit suicide after a messy break-up with his male student. The daughter, Olive (Abigail Breslin) is a four-eyed, slightly chubby seven-year-old obsessed with beauty pageants who hopes to one day wear the crown herself. The mother, Sheryl (Toni Collette), is desperately trying to keep the family together amidst growing dissention from every angle.

>Through a series of flukish events, Olive is invited to compete in the “Little Miss Sunshine” competition in California. Desperately strapped for cash while awaiting Richard’s “system” to pay off, the family decides to rally together and support Olive, piling the band of miscreants into a barely-running VW van and heading out on the three-day journey to California.

lms2The film takes this dysfunctional family and puts them in a delapidated van and sends them across California to a ghastly little girl beauty pageant. For me, how this overlaps with energy descent is that once the cheap oil that has allowed our social relationships and community bonds to fracture starts to dwindle, we will need to start learning how to communicate again, we will come home to each other. Cheap oil has allowed us to not know our neighbours, something our ancestors would have been bewildered about. Our social glue is unravelling (to mix metaphores) and our relationships with those around us are becoming more and more dysfunctional.

What I loved about ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ was that it shows a family coming back together again, in spite of all the pressures that could force them apart. Underneath the disparate and extreme characters, the drug addicted, sex obsessed grandfather, the neurotic suicidal uncle, the control freak father, are people who want to be happy and to be loved. As we enter a time of extraordinary change, we will need to learn to work with each other again, to spend time with each other again, to accept other people for what they are rather than what we think they should be…

lms3Aside from being a hilarious, touching, entrancing film, as well as a gentle but powerful critique of some of the US’s more ghastly aspects, for me, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ was a rare thing, a mainstream film that put forward the concept that when things get difficult we are capable of great things, of coming together, of humility and kindness. It is an important message, and one rare in films, where trauma and breakdown puts a lot more bums on seats than co-operation. While I’m sure that this film won’t be routinely shown at peak oil events up and down the country, it is nonetheless relevant and important, because, ultimately, if the people in this film can do it, so can we. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think ‘well, perhaps we can come back together again after all’….

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Nadia Hillman
16 Apr 9:22am

Funnily enough Rob, my friend showed up at my home last night clutching a copy of this veru film. I rarely sit down for a (whole) movie these days and it was great to watch it on a borrowed projector we had here. Odd to find your review this morning when I log on…..
Anyway, yes I agree it does offer a lot of hope-this story. Sad to think that little Olive wont make it to any other distant pageants (or perhaps not-that was ‘freakish’) but the retired camper will make a nice little den for her or her brother to retreat into wont it? Building Community should become a University degree for it is possibly the most key activity at this time.
Not easy here in St Pauls, Bristol, where social problems are so apparent and complex….but I’m trying.

Mark Forskitt
16 Apr 9:24am

It’s not peak oil I know, but since you mentioned films…..
I am getting tired of pointing people who think that global warming is a recent idea to look at the film Soylent Green (made in 1973)See

Harrison’s orignal novel (Make Room! Make Room!) covers resource sustainability much more generally than the film does. Does anyone know an early and more specifically peak oil related film?

Richard from Albany, NY
16 Apr 2:30pm

Another film to add to a non-peak-oil queue that has a wonderful message is “Big Eden” dir. by Thomas Bezucha. It’s about a town in Montana that has fallen in love with a wayward son, who has been trying to find happiness in New York City, but who comes back home to take care of his ailing grandpa and discovers that love has been in this quiet, remote part of Montana all this time. More than any other film, this one has touched me in that “Ah, home” place, and for some reason I can’t get it out of my head re: peak oil/global climate change/impending financial collapse. I loved LMS very much, and I knew it wouldn’t win the Oscar. When I left the theatre the first time I saw it I described it as the “Anti-Rocky.” The rest of us count too, don’chaknow?

Steve Balogh
16 Apr 6:45pm

Saw it in the theater and loved it. I agree that the “coming together” theme is very relevant. Especially how most of the characters are self obsessed in the beginning of the film and come together as a family by the end.

Strong performances all around.

Jason Cole
16 Apr 7:20pm

As we enter a time of extraordinary change, we will need to learn to work with each other again, to spend time with each other again, to accept other people for what they are rather than what we think they should be…

That’s Jeremy Kyle out of a job, then 😛

step back
17 Apr 3:27pm

Did you catch the scene where their breaking-down bus gets stuck in front of an oil pump?

You can’t say LMS has absolutely nothing to do with peak oil. The family’s oil-based machinery is breaking down. And yet they continue to pursue the false dreams of fame and beauty; they continue to believe the lies about winners and losers. It is only in the end that they see it for the farce it is.