16 Apr 2007
A Film Review: Little Miss Sunshine
I 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.
The 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…
Aside 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’….