Saturday, August 18, 2007


I’m ashamed to admit that these thoughts were prompted by a hard-to-sit-through film called “Little Miss Sunshine.” It’s one of those frustration stories where everything goes wrong for a dysfunctional family but they all pull together at the end. Usually I hate films like that.

The reason I'm writing about this story is that it brings up a point worth discussing, and that is the need everybody has for profundity in their lives and a kid’s ability to deliver it.

If you have a kid then you know how amazingly comforting a kid can be. When you're feeling low a little hand on your shoulder or a kid’s head on your arm is amazingly restorative. Why that is I don’t know. It can’t help you to get a job or pay your taxes but it does recharge the batteries in a way that booze or caffeine can’t.

The film is about a family who are bored and irritated by each other and who all are harboring secret fantasies about taking off on their own without even a good-bye. One of the only things they all have in common is that they’re all quietly moved in some way by the earnestness and innocence of the youngest kid. The girl isn’t Shirley Temple. She’s plain and awkward and doesn’t have witty lines. She’s just good-hearted and sincere.

If you only saw a few of her scenes you wouldn’t think the kid had much influence on the family at all...that’s why you have to persevere to the end. If you see the entire film you realize that she exerted a subtle but stabilizing influence on the family all along.

Everybody in the family wanted to leave and start fresh somewhere else, but the audience knows what the family doesn’t, viz, that they’d probably do even worse on their own. These are luckless people who are doomed to experience tough times and disappointment. That happens to some people. What they don't realize is that life could get even worse. They don't know it but the only chance they have for even a small amount of happiness is to dig in and be loyal to each other.

I said before that I had a theory about the need for profundity, and here it is. The awe you feel standing on a hill or a mountain, or watching waves break on a beach is not a luxury; it’s a necessity for your mental health. You need it. Humans crave profundity, and that’s what your own kid has to offer in abundance.

Having a kid of your own fills you with awe several times a day. If you're adventurous, and especially if you're an artist, then you need that awe to recharge the batteries. For me that's the message in this otherwise irritating film.


Marlo Meekins said...

i was forced to watch this movie on a plane. it was trying to be all new age but to me it screamed christian american cheese

john perez said...

and hes writing toy story 3...

Anonymous said...

The writer of "Little Miss Sunshine" was rewarded in the wake of its success with a writing job at Pixar. The American cheese is cloaked in just enough pseudohipness to buy it a pass at the right festivals.

William said...

My eighteenmonthold is a daily marvel. Everything is new to her so she makes everything new to me. You don't understand the meaning of life, living, being alive until you have a kid.

Being an artist, it's a necessity. As humans we need renewal. Chidrens are the foremost renewing.

Anonymous said...

I rather liked this picture. And I usually HATE indie arty pictures!

Lester Hunt said...

Eddie, you are so right. Having a kid may not give a person profound thoughts, but it does give you profound feelings, which in a way is even better. I think it's because of the way we are attached to children: the attachment is a form of love, very different from romantic love, but just as deep and life-changing. Remember the first time you fell in love with a woman (or man as the case may be)? Same heart-deepening, mind-expanding effect! But its as if you expand in different directions. BTW, I too rather liked this movie. Is it because I'm the last surviving member of the Alan Arkin fan club? Dunno.

scartoonist said...

Eddie, how can you write so gently and then be so sour? A child's hand on your shoulder is unconditional love. Little Mis Sunshine, which I happened to watch last night, is less a family drama than a modern slapstick. There are moments of editing, acting and writing brilliance in the film as well as blemishes, but it took the married team that made it five years to bring it to fruition. These are not Hollywood insiders but struggling creative types like many of us. And they did it. I'm sorry there was little in the film for you to like.

You do score a point that the family's dysfunctionality was often over the top, especially with mom and dad's shrill bickering, and this may be enough to tilt the film into the negative column for some. I chose to let it go, to laugh at Frank and Olive's dazzling performances (just Frank's scissoring run is enough to flag this as slapstick). We vary on how much we can forgive in a film of course, and thoughtful people like us must disagree at times if only to challenge ourselves to defend what we like and decry what we don't.

Thanks for the post.

Ardy said...

I didn't hate this film when I first saw it, but just imagining having to sit through it again seems like torture. And when a movie isn't worth watching more than once, what's the point? The movie was 100% pathos, only tried to get you from point A to point B (without much entertainment in between), and can be summed up pretty neatly with a few paragraphs.

The Horns and the Hawk said...

eddie, sir, your blog is one of the few that i don't hesitate in reading the second i see it's in my rss reader. this blog has routinely made me laugh (out loud), or make me reflective. your and john k's blogs both. but you hear that all the time.

1. i did a search on your blog and couldn't find your theory for profundity. is it an actual post? if so, you should probably repost it because that would be badass.

2. i would like to hear your defense for why kill bill is a good movie. i enjoyed it, immensely, but several people (in media and otherwise) whose opinions i respect on most matters have told me that it was a terrible movie. while i've never jumped ship on it (as it's still my favorite tarentino flick), it'd be nice to hear a well structured defense on the movie from a guy who makes statues of girls argue the nature of law.

Jay said...

I personally loved this film. Really lived up to the hype. Of course, I can't stand most of the older films you talk about, lol. But I'm twenty two, so that may change eventually.

Kali Fontecchio said...

There's this super pretentious teacher at school who yells at me and goes on a rant if he sees me drawing sexy girls. Then when he saw the stack of dvds I had in front of me, he then called me sophmoric, and recommended this film for me to watch instead.

Anonymous said...

Well, I gotta disagree with you on this one...Little Miss Sunshine was a wonderful little film..and I think you hit on some of the good points (despite your boredom with it) but it also has a larger message about..what is the value of a person...and why do we in this culture always value the perfect, beautiful and intellectually vapid amoung us...and the quirky, sincere and more down to earth always get overlooked? At the end of this movie this message comes thru loud and clear. I would think that as artists in particular, who have spent alot of time as kids and adults thinking all kinds of weird, unusual thoughts about the world around us, could more easily relate to the little girl in this movie..I sure could! I've had my time being misunderstood, made fun of because of how I talked and thought, and never, ever related to the "dress up doll" culture of little girls...and adult women, for that matter.

This is a movie for nonconformists that have no *choice* but to be so. And movies that celebrate that are so rare these days..I would urge you to at least consider that message..that the quirky, breakout thinkers amoung us (meaning..people like us!!!) are grossly underrepresented in film.


Sean Worsham said...

I happened to love this film Eddie. I guess for me the family bickering was really close to real life for me (In a way All in the Family was for the sitcom) although no exaggerations was done to make it more entertaining. It wasn't trying to be totally funny, it was trying to be close to real life and the humor came from the fact that it was all so true in a sense. Comedy comes from pain a lot of times (Look at any comedy from Dave Chappelle or Carlos Mencina) and from this film I could laugh at things such as being confronted by an old lover at a Quick Stop and having them get the wrong idea, the cold hypocritical judge at the beauty pagent and the way the family had to pull together for the one thing that mattered to them most the little girl (the part you loved the most).

The judge to me represented what the status quo today judges dysfuntional families and oddballs and I love how she tries to make the little girl lose despite the fact the audience cheered her on (clearly showing she's the winner).

While this isn't great as films of old such as "Smell of Fear" or even a sitcom like "All in the Family" the film was a beacon in an otherwise dull film season last year. I was in Holland last year when the film wasn't even shown yet and brought the dvd with me and showed it in front of a bunch of non- religious, anti-american Dutch folks. Instead of getting boos and hisses I got a bunch of claps and cheers (something I did expect at all). They loved it for much of the same reasons I did and for that, maybe this film's language was a lot more universal than I thought.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jay, Scar, Cynthia: I'm not completely sour on it. I'm glad I saw it. It was definitely thought-provoking. I just think they could have made the point better with a stronger dose of comedy.

The story wanted to show us how miserable the family was and sometimes it did that by making the audience feel miserable too. That's a mistake. I remember one sequence where a car horn was stuck in the "on" position for ten minutes. Listening to it drove me nuts!

Frank Capra knew how to handle things like this. The more miserable the characters were, the more comedy he shoveled in to balance it out. That, or virtuoso performances.

Horns: Interesting question! I'll answer in tomorrow's blog!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Sean: "Smell of Fear?" I'll look for it!

I.D.R.C. said...

Little Miss Sunshine seems like one of those movies that might be cute and ok if almost nobody sees it, but as soon as it becomes culture, it's too big and annoying for its britches. Like Forrest Gump.

I have often wished for a coin-operated child. You could put in a quarter, and it would do what children do for 5 minutes, and then stop until you put in the next quarter. At the end of the year you open the little door in its butt and 20 dollars comes out. Maybe 50 if you have enough friends over.

I love kids, but the blood-curdling shrieks emanating from the swimming pool just under my apartment's office window have taught me that there are strict limits to my love, and to to the general quality of parenting skills.

I have made a point, if not a career, of not having any kids. I suppose I am grateful that others are willing to do it, but lots of people seem to be having kids without having thought much about the responsibilities and obligations. I can't stop thinking about them. I try to avoid people who require that I change my plans for procrastination and sloth for them on a daily basis. Nothing changes plans like a kid. What most refer to as "rasing a family", I refer to as "throwing all your money, time and wisdom down the black hole of hope".

Some people, Like my wife, are great with children. Some people, like myself, might prepare a delicious barbecue with the most tender ones.

I remember one sequence where a car horn was stuck in the "on" position for ten minutes.

That's your modern "irony humor" for you. It's funny because it's annoying and tedious. Not funny to the viewer, funny to the people who made it thinking about the viewer's annoyance. Really smart viewers will "get it" and laugh along. Tee hee.

Is it because I'm the last surviving member of the Alan Arkin fan club? Dunno.

--Yet you hate Catch-22!

There's this super pretentious teacher at school who...

Tell him to go watch "Oleanna" and to back off if he doesn't want any trouble.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

IDRC: I saw "Oleanna." A very interesting film!

Some Guy said...

Ever see the movie Magnolia?

Anonymous said...

Hi Uncle Eddie,
We always seem to expect all or nothing from the persons and things we love, of course we are in for the crude awakening, as long as we expect and demand perfection (shudder), life has already turned into hell... so this movie is imperfect, like so many others, and comforting for that:)

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: I don't expect films to be perfect and if I met the writers of this film I'd be more inclined to congratulate them for what they did right rather than attack them for what they did wrong.

The film had some serious flaws but that doesn't mean the writers were bums. It was still interesting. I'm the first to admit that it's too easy to be an armchair quarterback. l.

M@ said...

A terrible film from beginning to end. Don't understand what all the fuss was about. Annoying characters- they even kill off the only slightly amusing character half way through.

Eduardo Fitzgerald- You once asked me which city I would like to live in Europe. I said Baracelona even though I've never been, but now I have and you can read about it on my Blog!

Like I've said a thousand times-I love your Blog-you're an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

>There's this super pretentious teacher at school who yells at me and goes on a rant if he sees me drawing sexy girls. Then when he saw the stack of dvds I had in front of me, he then called me sophmoric, and recommended this film for me to watch instead.

What DVD's did you have?

Eddie, in general, do you like action movies?

Whit said...

By the admission of the directors and writer of "Little Miss Sunshine" their film is about the death of dreams. They just put it over in a series of unexpected twists. This was close enough to Pixar's "tell compelling stories in unexpected ways" theory to land Michael Arndt that job writing Toy Story III. It wasn't a masterpiece but it was different enough to score with critics, the public and Pixar.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

M@: Wow!!!! Great drawings of Barcelona! You should do a book!

Jorge: I like literate action movies like Matrix 1 and Kill Bill.

Whit: It scares me that Pixar's going farther in that direction. The present staff already knows how to do character arcs and all that. They should be spending their money on acquiring imagination and comedy assets.

Anonymous said...

Pixar has an acknowledged terror of becoming complacent, which is why they hired Brad Bird to shake them up a few years back. Now that Bird has done so, perhaps they're again fretting, which may be why Arndt is, to them, somehow pointing the way. Lack of commercial failure does peculiar things over time. They know their incomparable run can't last forever and they want some sort of insurance. At least they didn't hire a busload of creative execs fresh from Harvard.

pappy d said...

I'm with lester on this one.

The profundity is in the feelings. Each of the characters is pursuing a dream of his own, oblivious or even resentful of the loser family he finds himself cast in. None of the characters will ever measure up to his own dreams.

Things don't go wrong in this movie. The people themselves are wrong. The family pulls itself together in the realisation that the little girl needs them, that the imminent failure she is facing is an emotion that each of them has been struggling with on his own.

Ideas are puny things next to feelings. The feelings around sex & reproduction are our legacy from our ancestors who were hornier & loved babies a little more than their contemporaries. It's who we are as living beings.

I've been in love before to a greater & lesser degree, but no feeling matches the memory of holding my baby boy & the gorgeous vinegary smell of his tiny head.

I liked this movie because it wasn't propagandistic or cynically manipulative like most family movies. It's G-friendly enough for a broad audience & didn't cost much to make.

In-flight movies this well-made are rarer than a good in-flight dinner.


Whatever you do, don't watch it.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to anonymously disagree.

First, "Little Miss Sunshine" is a horribly washed down version of "Slums of Beverly Hills." "Slums" is a great movie, and it almost seems like it was such robbery that Alan Arkin didn't get any recognition for that performance that they hastily remade, recast, and diluted the hell out of it for the general public to swallow so that could get a diluted taste of the original ("Slums" is exactly the same theme and basically the same basic story, but the 'family issues' are much more serious. In "Sunshine" even the grandfather's cocaine addiction was washed over and not really addressed. The grandfather OD'd on coke in the bathroom with the granddaughter sleeping on the other side of the door in a motel. If that were in the newspaper would it seem as innocent? ).

But the point of the movie, in my humble opinion, is not about the wonders of child, but the semantics of family roots. Basically, no matter how quirky or messed up your family is, in the end that's all you have and is essentially who you are. It drives home the point that families who obviously aren't the "Leave it to Beaver" model that we're supposed to have still are families and their function is to support and carry each other throughout one's life. No matter how much you deny it, you are from where you are from and you were raised a certain way. To deny that is to deny yourself, which is what every member of the family had to realize after the bottom fell out of their world and they had nothing left to go on but their own, which still essentially worked despite the fact that they were all screwed up in their own cute unique way. It's like people who grew up in LA that move to San Francisco or New York, spend sometime, and then act like they're third generation Mission district/Brooklyn. It doesn't fly. They're just ashamed of being from LA because no one seems to like LA and so they come off as dorks because essentially they're ashamed of some basic part of themselves because other people don't like it (That's a big personal annoyance of mine.)

Seriously, though, watch "Slums of Beverley Hills" and marvel at how much better it is (Funnier, more poignant, etc . . . ) and how insanely similar the two movies are. Plus in "Sunshine" they keep saying that they're going to Redondo Beach . . . AND THEY GO TO GODDAMNED VENTURA! (I grew up in Torrance).

mike f. said...

"I like literate action movies like Matrix 1..."

??? - You've got to be kidding.

Anonymous said...

"Pixar has an acknowledged terror of becoming complacent, which is why they hired Brad Bird to shake them up a few years back. Now that Bird has done so, perhaps they're again fretting, which may be why Arndt is, to them, somehow pointing the way."

Yeah, they're fretting all the way to the bank.
Where was this acknowlegment of "terror" published, by the way? Or is it the same old fear of not developing that EVERY single artist and creative place since time immemorial has?

What tripe! These silly old theories as to how places work-places that people know diddly squat about...SIGH.

As a matter of fact no, "they"(that would be #1, John Lasseter and #2, Catmull) didn't hire Brad Bird to "shake them up". They hired him because he's insanely talented, and was well-known to those guys, as needed a good gig where he could make quality films with no stupid interference, period. I'd have hired him and so would a lot of people no matter how "complacent" or downright psychotic my film production house was(and btw, there are several different types of people working at Pixar-it isn't a group mind).

I'm sorry to be a bit brutal, but don't overthink these things; Bird has a rep that speaks for itself;--he's lways been offered deals and directing gigs and has had his choice. He chose Pixar because of the parameters of the deal and the mutual repsect he and John and many of the Pixar elite have for each other going back to Calarts and Disney's.
That said, Pixar and the NON-Brad people ontinue as they did before he was there. Still NOT "petrified" and very very happy with how their mega blockbuster, charming and entertaining films are doing.

Anonymous said...

Uh, it was a direct quote from Ed Catmull. Sorry to wreck your 'tude.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: "Slums of Beverly Hills?" I'll look for it!

Anonymous said...

This works with puppies too!

Anonymous said...

Uh, ANYONE who writes the word "'tude"...jesus.

I don't care what Catmull said for a press junket to promote "Incredibles" IF he said something like it(attribution please). Anyway, if it was close to what you state I still wouldn't take it seriously. There wasn't any serious "fretting" at Pixar that led to hiring Bird.
The word disingenious comes to mind. Look it up.

Anonymous said...

look up 'disingenious'? It's not in there. You must mean disingenuous.

John Young said...

Not since Napolean Dynamite has a movie left a worse taste in my mouth than 'Little Miss Sunshine.' It annoys me to no end when people write about freaks from a dishonest place; i mean that i hate when you can tell that a character isn't based on someone's real experience with real people, it's instead based on someone's idea of what eccentric people are like or their imaginings of what the inner working's of a mad man's mind are. It's boring that's all and it's especially offensive in comedies. I agree whole heartedly that Frank Capra knew how to make uplifting tales of misery and woe and this was because the characters were real. I also agree with the above commenter who mentioned that anything worthwhile found in 'little miss sunshine' can be found in a much more pallatable form in 'slums of beverly hills.' It's also kind of cowardly to look outside of yourself for inspiration as to what makes crazy people tick; we're all crazy and sometimes i think we're all crazy in similar ways. I love this blog by the way.

Anonymous said...

"look up 'disingenious'? It's not in there. You must mean disingenuous"

Aw! You looked it up!

I.D.R.C. said...

"Slums" is a good film.