Friday, April 27, 2007

Postmodern dysfunctional humor at its best

Don't watch this movie if you can't stomach significant familial dysfunction and some foul language. But Little Miss Sunshine (2006) is not only the funniest film that I've seen in some years, but one of those rare contemporary comedies in which the director permits genuine human bonds of affection to surface in the most unexpected if quirky ways amidst the angst-ridden absurdity of their postmodern lives. The following is from the commercial plot synopsis:
Olive [Abigail Breslin] is a little girl with a dream: winning the Little Miss Sunshine contest. Her family wants her dream to come true, but they are so burdened with their own quirks, neuroses, and problems that they can barely make it through a day without some disaster befalling them. Olive's father Richard [Greg Kinnear] is a flop as a motivational speaker, and is barely on speaking terms with her mother [Toni Collette]. Olive's uncle Frank [Steve Carell], a renowned Proust scholar, has attempted suicide following an unsuccessful romance with a male graduate student. Her brother Dwayne [Paul Dano], a fanatical follower of Nietzsche, has taken a vow of silence, which allows him to escape somewhat from the family whose very presence torments him. And Olive's grandfather [Alan Arkin] is a ne'er-do-well with a drug habit, but at least he enthusiastically coaches Olive in her contest talent routine. Circumstances conspire to put the entire family on the road together with the goal of getting Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine contest in far off California.
The comic denouement of the story involves an ironic indictment of the beauty pageant industry's premature sexualization of little girls -- ironic because the contestant most innocent of such sexualization is Olive, who ends up scandalizing the audience in a most endearingly innocent way. The story as a whole, postmodern product that it is, lacks any kind of overarching meta-narrative to give it ultimate coherence or meaning. Yet unlike films such as Crash or House of Sand and Fog, which seem intent on telling us that there is something unsalvageably lost or corrupt in each of us, this film seems intent on showing us how even the most hopelessly unsalvageable lives may have humanly redeemable qualities. Bear in mind, though, when all is said and done and the laughter ends, it remains a thoroughly postmodern story. If this sounds like something you can stomach and you're tired of seeing Brideshead Revisited for the 30th time, this may be worth seeing.

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