February 14, 2007

"Little Miss Sunshine"

is one of the less likely Best Picture nominees ever. If the prototypical Best Picture winner is, say, "Return of the King" -- magnificent-looking, three hours long, you need to see it in a theatre rather than on TV -- "Little Miss Sunshine" is at the opposite end on most dimensions. If it wasn't for the swear words, you'd figure it was a TV movie.

The key to understanding "Little Miss Sunshine" is that it's a movie for moms. Mothers are an underserved audience segment in film (as opposed to television), so "Little Miss Sunshine" is rather refreshing in a business where most films are aimed either at males or single women. (One downside of this, however, is that Toni Collette, who has been brilliant in other character roles, is given little to do in this film full of quirky characters because, as the mom, she is the target audience's surrogate.)

"Little Miss Sunshine" offers two messages to moms:

1. Other people's families are just as crazy as your family.

2. No matter how dysfunctional your family is most of the time, it can still pull together in a crisis.

The now famous scenes of the whole normally squabbling clan push-starting the old VW microbus, then helping each other clamber onto the moving vehicle visually summarizes the second message.

I've tried to come up with a cynical objection to these messages, but, ultimately, I like them: they are a good combination of satirical realism and sentimentality.

I just wish the movie was better. For example, there's a key scene about sixty percent of the way through the movie where a character discover that he's red-green colorblind, with heartbreaking consequences. It's unrealistic that he wouldn't know already, but, worse, there's nothing that prefigures that discovery in the film. It would have been easy to write in an earlier scene where, say, the character wears a red shirt with green pants (which colorblind golfer Jack Nicklaus accidentally wore to a tournament early in his career), and the other characters assume he's intentionally doing it to be obnoxious.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

24 comments:

dan g. said...

Talk about unrealistic: How about the scene where the family runs into to Steve Carrell's ex-lover and his academic rival in a gas station somewhere off the highway in Arizona. What are the odds of a chance encounter with someone you know occurring in a place like that? Ridiculous.

I could go on, but I don't have time now. I was not impressed by this movie, and am dismayed that it got such high praise.

Anonymous said...

I have not seen this movie but wonder if the movie could be termed a "critics movie" in that it is a movie meant for people who see many movies and do not want to see the same tired plot again.

I have come to realize that movie critics love the unusual because they see so much "usual."

Chris said...

Steve,

First off, I have never posted on your site, and read it all of the time. Great stuff! I wanted to try to explain more what color blindness is like, and why the boy wouldn't necessary have made many clothing mistakes up to this point in the movie.

I'm colorblind. I fail every color test known to man, but I can see the difference between a red shirt and green pants any day. Color blindness is not literally having eyesight that is devoid of color, or just seeing all reds and greens as one big blob of color. It is a deficiency in the number of red, green, or blue color cones in one's eye.

It is more realistic that the boy never showed up in a completely mismatched outfit to allude to his deficiency. When people dress like that, they are just bad dressers.

More often, I just incorrectly colors that are mixed with red. This is because I have a low number of red cones in my eyes, so the blue washes out the red when I look at the purple, making it seem dark blue, and pinks look grayish (not gray though) because of their mixture with white.

Note: Some people are completely devoid of color cones, and literally see in black and white, but they are rare.

Here are some links that show what it looks like to see like a color blind person:

http://colorvisiontesting.com/what%20colorblind%20people%20see.htm

http://www.iamcal.com/toys/colors/

Thanks Steve!

Anonymous said...

"It's unrealistic that he wouldn't know [about his color-blindness] already..."

I don't know about that. The former owner of our corner drugstore didn't learn he was colour-blind till he retired, when he couldn't find a red golf tee on green grass. That was back in the 60s. I wonder how many green and red pills he mixed up over his career?

Intellectual Pariah

Steve Sailer said...

Jack Nicklaus often can't tell the red scores (under par) from the green scores (over par) on a golf tournament scoreboard.

Steve Sailer said...

Jack Nicklaus often can't tell the red scores (under par) from the green scores (over par) on a golf tournament scoreboard.

Sid said...

Nothing about legal Asian immigration in the film, was there?

They should remake Taxi Driver with Jupiter in the role of Travis Bickle.

reticent man said...

I liked the movie a lot.
It wasn't powerful, it was just goofy and funny. It wasn't overly sappy.

My favorite movei is Braveheart, and I loved RotK, but I don't see these movies as mutually exclusive.

Barder said...

Steve, you're a great essayist and critic. Stick to those things. Leave fiction for others.
:P

Alex said...

Actually, the excerpt Steve once posted from a “Baby Blues” teleplay he wrote was quite good, though maybe more as wit than as narrative.

Riot Nrrd said...

I'm surprised to hear Nicklaus was color blind because it was my understanding that, like a lot of other golfers, he flew his own aircraft.

Throughout much of aviation history, colorblind men (the usual type of colorblindedness affects only males, other types can affect either sex but are comparatively very rare) have been kept from flying for little good reason. The stated reason is the use of green and red tower signals and instrument markings.

It would be very easy to change those to other colors not impacted by the common male pattern color blindness or a type readable by even the truly colorblind. But aviation is ossified and a living coelecanth in many ways.

Many individuals with male pattern red-green colorblindness have excellent fine visual acuity and actually might have made good fighter pilots. Emnemy aircraft are engaged usually on shape, not on whether they are red or green, which at altitude no one can reliably tell anyway from any distance.

Here's an example of unintended consequence. I attended an A&P school and in the course learned in wiring almost all aircraft are wired with the same color (off-white or yellow) wire throughout. When I expressed my opinion of this, two of the instructors proceeded to "set me straight". Since colorblind people were traditionally not allowed to be pilots, many of those interested in aviation became aircraft mechanics instead, and a larger than average number of aircraft mechanics were color blind!

The FAA has eased up on colorblindness because pilots are now waivered if they get a special pair of contact lenses one of which is tinted. They can quickly be trained, in a manner familiar to any experienced black and white photographer, to use the difference which each eye sees to distinguish the colors needed "for safe operation of aircraft". In practice, there were several individuals who learned the common color charts used in medical exams and managed to fake their way through aviation-some retiring senior captains with no incidents.

Cato said...

I recently saw "Sunshine," and another recent little comedy that got critical raves, "Napoleon Dynamite." Not only did I barely chuckle during either, but my word, what's with movies that climax with dance routines by characters who can't dance? I don't know if it's new, but it's already pretty much run into the ground.

It is interesting how comedies that become critical darlings are often much worse than dramas or thrillers that do (of course, this is just my perspective). Movies like Memento or Cache - loved 'em. But comedies like the aforementioned comedies and the woeful, awful "Royal Tannenbaums" -I don't see the point.

dan g. said...

"what's with movies that climax with dance routines by characters who can't dance? I don't know if it's new, but it's already pretty much run into the ground."

It's not new. Remember 'Slapshot' with Paul Newman from 1977? It also ends with a public humiliation/dance routine (in this case, a striptease at a hockey game) which somehow redeems and liberates the character who performs it.

The film's satire on child beauty pageants - their superficiality and hyper-competetiveness, etc. - has also already been done much better in the 70's, by Michael Ritchie's 'Smile' from 1975.

Anonymous said...

The film's satire on child beauty pageants - their superficiality and hyper-competetiveness, etc. - has also already been done much better in the 70's, by Michael Ritchie's 'Smile' from 1975

I haven't seen the latest movie but I did see Smile, and the beauty pageant it featured was not a child beauty pageant. As I recall, the contestants were in the 16 to 18 range.

Peter
Iron Rails & Iron Weights

Anonymous said...

Chris,

That was very interesting info on colorblindness. Thanks.


Comment,

The comments section on this blog is terrific. I learn alot by simply reading what others think about articles Steve writes or links. It makes me reconsider whether national publications should run five or six pages of letters to the editor at the end of their magazines. People out there have much to add.

dan g. said...

Peter, it's true that Smile dealt with a teen beauty pageant, but the crassness of both events is similar.

Anyway, if you haven't yet seen Little Miss Sunshine, my recommendation is: don't. It's an unoriginal, unconvincing, unfunny piece of drivel. It will probably win the Academy Award, like the equally crappy and unrealistic Crash did last year.

Half Sigma said...

The grandfather was my favorite character. Too bad they killed him off early.

Based on your analysis, I liked him because I'm a guy. His character probably didn't appeal to the moms in the audience.

Anonymous said...

It makes me reconsider whether national publications should run five or six pages of letters to the editor at the end of their magazines. People out there have much to add.

The Economist now puts most of the letters to the editor online.

Peter
Iron Rails & Iron Weights

joshrandall said...

Sigh...would that ALL of us were colorblind!:) But,seriously,I liked the movie. It was the first time I saw Steve Carrell w/o hating him. (I loathe The Office!) The little girl was cute;she is a little bit,uhm,plain,but really likeable. When she does the strip dance at the end,i got to admit I LOL'd.And the perv in the audience w/Kinnear-funny. The ending was sappy,with everybody taking the stage,but it "worked" as my friend Roger Ebert would say.

SFG said...

"I have come to realize that movie critics love the unusual because they see so much "usual." "
You know, there's quite a bit of truth to that. I often find I enjoy movies that critics find corny, but critics are so used to all the cinematic tricks that they're immune to them and will comment much more on the technique of moviemaking. A particularly moving sequence is more likely to make a critic think 'this director is very good' than 'wow, I feel sad'. This may have a lot to do with perceptions of critics as liberal, cynical aesthetes: as Steve has pointed out, Hollywood can be very conservative at times.

Anonymous said...

If you think Little Miss Sushine plays out like a TV movie with swear words, you apparently have never seen another film in theaters.

Anonymous said...

"Napoleon Dynamite" was written to speak to a particular group's life experiences, and if you are not part of that group the movie is probably crushingly bad. The group is middle-America kids growing up in the 1980's.

It was both funny and painful to watch Napoleon Dynamite, because of the sheer number of things in that movie that paralleled my actual childhood. I pretty much was that guy, only probably worse.

Anonymous said...

The creators of LMS are a husband-wife team. Recently interviewed on NPR, they (well, the wife did most of the talking) revealed that they "workshopped" every scene in the movie for a long time, something like a period of months or close to a year. This struck me not only as anal but as inartistic. Workshopping usually means running something by various audiences and changing it based on their input. Script by opinion poll.

The other striking thing in this interview, to me, was the snobbishness. The husband-wife didn't really do an opinion poll, they workshopped it only to the "right people." To properly credentialed people with worthy credits who were felt to be correct socially and professionally. I get the feeling that the chuckle of craft services (food) people or of lowly gaffers would have been unnoticed or dismissed out of hand during all this workshopping.

In short, their attitude and "process" seemed very corporate. As it turned out in the interview, these weren't artists, they were marketers. They mentioned their previous important credits were commercials - Target commercials. Aka, the cream of the crop.

Independent film? Noncommercial art? Personal viewpoint? Oh, please.

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