I'll just say it. Little Miss Sunshine is a festering turd of a movie.
Little Miss Sunshine is just a mess. No, it's not horrible. It isn't so offensive that I wouldn't watch it a second time. The problem is that critics lauded it as one of the year's best films. It was particularly praised for it's witty dialogue and unusual characters. The preview was minimal, showing all actors I like to the catchy DeVotchKa tune, "The Enemy Guns." I couldn't help going into it with unrealistically high expectations. I came out of the theater hating it but decided to let it resonate a bit before I decided to formulate my thoughts.
I realize this view may make me very unpopular but I've long since stopped obsessing over if people like me or not. I'm slamming a movie beloved as the "little movie that could." Movies like Little Miss Sunshine often end up going straight to video: movies with decent casts and healthy doses of comedy and drama. Little Miss Sunshine did more than succeed, though. Its characters were so kooky and adorable and dealt with serious issues of insecurity, sadness and a dysfunctional family in such a palatable way that resonated with so many.
Dysfunctional family and dysfunctional people stories all together are sort of my bread and butter. I consume them in many forms: film, literature and my own writing. Coming from one, I appreciate the honesty of the cracks and imperfections in a familial unit. Don Draper's family on Mad Men is a great example of how a picture perfect nuclear family could have tangible problems. Anything Bergman did shows the angst and suffering in subtle ways. Then you have The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which, outlandish as it is, is fun to watch and you can picture it in the darkest depths of your imagination. I'm such a lover of the dysfunctional family flick that it is a bit of a double-edged sword. I'm more keen to like them and yet more critical of them because they are so easy to ruin.
If you're thinking, "could you do any better?" Yes. Yes, I could. Anyone with any inclination as a writer could. I truly believe that.
The dialogue isn't particularly insightful or even true to life. Most of the humor relies heavily on comic timing and not the writer's wit. Luckily, the cast is plenty talented and have comedic chops. Every character is some kind of archetype. Sheryl (Toni Collette) is the anchor of the family whose patience is abused by all. Her husband, Richard (Greg Kinnear), is mostly an nonredeemable control freak. Their daughter the "Little Miss Sunshine" hopeful is the ebullient Olive, who knows she isn't conventionally pretty but is going to try her hardest to win. Oh, and there's the ever present somber, suicidal professor, Uncle Frank (Steve Carrell). He's not only a tortured intellectual, but is also gay and in love with a student. Really? Just pour on all those clichéd stereotypes while you're at it. Okay, Grandpa (Alan Arkin) is pervie potty-mouth, who acquired a heroin addiction in the old folks home. I saw that special on senior citizen drug use and promiscuity on The Daily Show, which the writers probably jacked the idea from years ago. They really did something clever with Dwayne. See, they made him liberal and intellectual, and so disciplined he has become mute BUT he wants to join the military. What a clever twist.
Even with these archetypal characters, they still aren't that dysfunctional. Their problem stems from a lack of communication. I know most problems do but come on! If Sheryl would only see a therapist to vent, she'd be much less overwrought. Richard needs his family to put their proverbial feet down and tell him they're not taking his shit anymore. Dwayne needs career counseling. Olive needs to be less obsessed with being pretty. There are all kinds of other competitions an intelligent girl with a great attitude can win. Grandpa's fine. He's got a wonderful relationship with his granddaughter. Frank needs a better support network where being gay isn't considered an abomination.
The story is lamely formulaic. Take a dysfunctional family and cram 'em in a van or just very close quarters just to let those unresolved issues start to brim. And money and reliability of the mode of transportation is a must because it's the catalyst of the emotional outbursts that will inevitably happen. Voila! If you can pull a little Weekend At Bernie's action by keeping Grandpa's dead body around all the better. Don't get me started on Olive's routine. Not even a little funny...
If this is the kind of schlock winning awards and being deemed great, I don't know whether I should feel confident or frustrated.