Sunday, March 11, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine

Because of its charm and guise as a "comedy" - as satire or black comedy, depending upon who's commenting - Little Miss Sunshine has so far failed to gather the kind of commentary I think it rightly deserves.

I was lucky enough to see a screening of LMS with Mitchy, where after the screening writer Michael Arndt came out and interviewed with Jeff Goldsmith of Creative Screenwriting. He seems like a cool guy and was insightful as to his process and intent, and, as a bonus, your hero answered one of the pre-screening trivia questions and won a one sheet which was to be signed by Arndt afterwards. (Q: What movie did Alan Arkin star in along with Art Garfunkel, Charles Grodin and Orson Welles? A: Catch 22 - and talk about a star-studded cast...)

At this point, let me just say that it's rare that I think a movie's worth writing about, let alone seeing again. But there was - and is - something about LMS that haunted me after that first screening. I'm serious.

So I rented it and showed it on separate times to moms, Cooky and Fish. I wanted to find the key, and about half way through the second viewing it fell into my lap - it was so clear.

In all of the gushing about LMS it's telling, I think, that there is no discussion of theme. There's plenty of talk about what happens, ie: plot. And there are the usual obvious takes, such as it's about a dysfunctional family that finds a dysfunctional way to bond. And it's interesting that in the following months I saw, read and heard Toni Collette as well as directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton - but none of them, including Michael Arndt, revealed the theme.

And here it is; it's about illusions. In fact, I can't think of a film in recent years that embodies its theme in so rich and rewarding a manner as LMS. You'd probably have to go back to the 60's or 70's to find something comparable.

What's interesting about LMS is watching the characters interacting with the theme, each in their own different way. In so doing LMS's sad and yet triumphant characters reveal how life isn't about objectivity at all - it's about breaking through our own illusions and the illusions that others impose upon us.

The theme is so tightly integrated into LMS that it's embodied in visual metaphors and staging throughout the film. I don't want to talk about individual examples, because part of the viewing enjoyment is in discovering those "hidden" moments.

It really is brilliant and has become one of my favorite films. I've already seen it 5 times and moms is crazy about it. During the first week of the DVD release she came over at least three times and bugged me: "I wanna see Little Miss Sunshine!"

Last, and I know my boys will give me shit for this, but it really is a film with heart. As fucked up as these folks are, as cruel as they can be to themselves and each other, they also find ways to break through that shit too. The LMS cast is a mirror that has a few blemishes, but unlike contrived studio fare with its artificial sweeteners, Little Miss Sunshine's beating, painfully human heart is the real deal.

ps: I never did get my poster - I completely mis-read Mitchy and thought he wanted to go after Arndt had been speaking for a while. So despite Mitchy saying it was ok to stay, we left. Damn.