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Just Saw [Insert Movie Title Here]...

...or how my MFA in screenwriting ruined any chance of enjoying a movie like a normal person. If I apply what I've learned to existing films, would it have made a better film?

SPOILER WARNING: Please be advised, I plan to discuss plot points in detail so if you haven't seen the movie and don't want the surprise ruined, stop here.

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Location: California, United States

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

Logline: A dysfunctional family goes on a road trip to bring their 8 year old daughter to California to compete in a beauty contest.

The good idea: "Dysfunctional family" and "road trip" in the same movie.

What worked: Confine a group of quirky, dark souled people in a small vehicle that's falling apart and see what happens.

What didn't work: The subversive humor wasn't subversive enough and there wasn't enough of it.

There is a lot of humor in Little Miss Sunshine, some genuine surprises and one or two real belly laughs. Richard is a motivational speaker who doles out destructive self-help advice to his eight year old daughter Olive much to the dismay of his long suffering wife Sheryl. In the meantime, his heroine addicted father has been kicked out of the nursing home and lives with them as does her gay, suicidal brother Frank who rooms with Dwayne, their nihilistic teenage son who has taken a vow of silence.

This movie is driven by Olive's desire to complete in a beauty pageant. Unable to afford a plane ticket from New Mexico to California, they pile into a vintage yellow VW van and trek across the desert. Along the way, we learn why Grandpa got kicked out of the nursing home, why Frank is suicidal, and that Richard should take a page from his own advice on success.

The film is more of a character study than an adventure. Strange as this may seem, this is the film's greatest flaw. What the audience learns about the characters, the characters (for the most part) already know so we are denied opportunities to watch them discover as we discover.

Where the film succeeds is in its ability to throw humorous obstacles in the way of their road trip and how they have to live with the results (as opposed to overcoming the obstacles, they learn to co-exist with them-- a defective car horn comes to mind).

However, the film's greatest strength (humor) also is its greatest weakness. The jokes (while funny) are few and they go on for far too long and are repeated often.

Once the road trip ends and they are at the pageant, none of the characters' conflicts are resolved... because, despite their quirkiness, there isn't a lot of conflict within.

While the film is offbeat, humorous and a little subversive (Olive's talent performance treads that fine line between satire and exploitation), Little Miss Sunshine is strangely unsatisfying.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I found "Little Miss Sunshine" hilarious and moving in parts -- I'd recommend it to anyone -- but my main problem was the numerous rather obvious plot holes. For example:

--Would a family really steal a body from a hospital just to make it possible for a daughter to compete in a beauty contest, even considering the family's desire to vindicate the grandfather's memory and salvage a crumb of self-respect after numerous humiliations?

--Wouldn't a corpse kept in a minibus in hot weather smell, making the journey impossible? Wouldn't even the most clueless police officer detect its presence?

--Is it realistic that the little girl's family --they were eccentric, not uncaring or neglectful -- would not have seen any part of her presentation or that her grandfather would have taught her such a bawdy burlesque routine (Even though it was was funny and pointed up the hypocrisy of the other little girls' more subtly whorish moves.)?

--As charming as I found the child actor who played the daughter, how realistic is it that her character would have gotten that far in a competition like that? She would have been eliminated far earlier, it seems to me.

--Hadn't anyone in the family seen such a competition before? How could they be shocked? Post-Jon Benet Ramsey, everyone has *some* idea.

--Don't most people know whether or not they are color-blind at a fairly early age? I found the teenaged boy's discovery hard to believe.

I'm not usually a particularly nit-picking viewer, but these improbabilities were impossible to ignore.

October 11, 2006 11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not completely sure that this is correct but this is what i thought while watching the film -

--Hadn't anyone in the family seen such a competition before? How could they be shocked? Post-Jon Benet Ramsey, everyone has *some* idea.

As you could see at the start of the film, the type of beauty contest Olive had been watching was not full of overly tanned and made up young girls so the family was probably expecting something of that sort.

September 10, 2008 5:46 AM  

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