Intro by Maria
Little Miss Sunshine came out in 2006. I saw it back then, and once again, and now, seeing it for the third time, the one word that comes to mind to describe it is “cute.” This is a cute movie. I suppose it’s partly cute because it stars Abigail Breslin, who plays seven-year-old Olive Hoover and who is the key feature of this film.
Here’s what happens: Olive gets invited to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in California. Unfortunately, her family is kind of a mess. Olive’s uncle Frank has attempted suicide; her brother has taken an oath of silence (and he’s generally miserable, or so it seems as he emphatically writes, “I HATE EVERYONE”); her father just can’t seem to succeed as a motivational speaker; and her grandfather got kicked out of a retirement community because he couldn’t stop snorting heroin. Her mother is just…well…a mother.
They don’t have much money, but everyone wants to support Olive. So they agree to go on a road trip from where they live in Arizona to the pageant. And you can guess what happens next: wacky adventures. Olive’s father fat-shames her. Ugh, he’s just a really really bad guy. The car breaks down. The grandfather dies. Ms. Farmer from Donnie Darko tries to deny Olive from competing. And when she finally does get to compete, using the dance moves her coach—which is her late grandfather—taught her, we see it’s not what you would find at the typical beauty pageant and it’s also set to Rick James’s “Super Freak.”
But everything seems to work out in the end, and it’s all because the family rallies around Olive. And that, my friends, is how you make a cute movie. But the movie also speaks plainly about mental illness, depression, suicide, and it really shows us how families work together, whether it’s for the good or the bad. So bring your tiara and best motivational speech because, as the Spin Doctors song goes: Little miss, little miss, little miss can’t be wrong on this next episode of Peculiar Picture Show.
If You’re Keeping Score
- Maria thinks it’s OK to talk about double penetration porn during dinner.
- Baby Boomers built an Empire of Bullshit.
- Brandon can’t drive a stick shift, but Maria can.
- Maria always makes Brandon do the “take us out/away” closing of the show.
- If you listen all the way to the end, you’ll get a little gem of a story.
M: Classic family dysfunction on a road trip story; they are all working towards one goal while also working through their own problems; I can’t ever escape motivational speakers (#killmenow).
B: An underdog story (how it was made and the general story itself); Olive is the glue that holds everyone together; cynic in me loved to watch the father fail; every character seems to really want something and never get it.
M: Family dysfunction/dynamics; the first scene (at the dinner table) frames how the rest of the movie will be, like a thesis statement; things feel real; it’s just a cute movie, and I was pleasantly surprised.
B: The movie succeeds at being cute because it’s so real; it depicts real failures; Prousts’s life parallels this movie; very relatable because it depicts actual failure and actual problems.
M: Not much to dislike, though defining the mother character as just a mother is a little off-putting; plot gets a little over the top and unrealistic; a lot of bad decisions that seem kind of unrealistic, too.
B: They may have sacrificed realism in the events and plot to tell a story, almost like an allegory; I wish they went a little deeper, specifically about Frank and the outcome of everything.
M: This film is chock full of mental health problems; we have drug addiction issues, body issues, depression/suicide issues; all these issues seem real in the movie.
B: The body issue topic didn’t seem like a gimmick, so it was well done; the depiction of suicide; Frank really just wants to help everyone, but he can’t do that because of his depression.
M: A lot of the depression I had in my late 20s and early 30s was because I was wrestling with failing and not feeling like I had accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish and not doing the things I thought I would. I wasn’t in a relationship. I thought I was going to be married. A lot of the society pressures were on me. I felt like I needed to have a baby and a family. All my friends were getting married. I was alone. I had to be okay with not having a family and falling down and getting back up.
B: In many ways, Olive is the glue that holds this family together. There were several scenes where the family looked like they wanted to go their different ways, and it’s always Olive that draws them back. Olive is the one who pulls them all together for this event; Olive is the one who finally gets them to embrace their failures.
B: This is a film about people wanting things and not getting them and having to be OK with that.
M: With women…we see so many things every day about what we should look like, what we should weigh, all of those kinds of things. Diets are marketed to us, people have their kids on diets when they’re seven years old, which is absolutely ridiculous. Think about the psychological trauma of what Olive is going through. She even cries that her father isn’t going to like her because she isn’t a winner. So the things that she’s developing from an early age, that she’s experiencing and hearing—”my daddy doesn’t like losers,” and “losers are fat”—her father intimates that, and it could potentially be that Olive grows up with a lot of issues.
B: College for me was rough with my mental illness, so that’s when I started getting into self harm and other stuff. There were a few times where I knew I was going to a dark place and things would get darker, so I went through my college dorm room and got rid of everything i could feasibly use to commit suicide, and that probably saved me from a few attempts—or at least one and then I get kicked out of college. There were a few times where I really wanted to kill myself—it was an overwhelming thought. I just didn’t have the energy to do it or the means to go out and do it.
M: You hear a lot that people say suicide is such a selfish thing to do, and as someone who has had suicidal thoughts and has attempted suicide, there was nothing selfish in what I did—it seems that way, and perhaps there is some selfishness. But you actually think that you are doing everybody a favor by committing suicide. So you’re thinking you’re very selfless in those moments. So there’s a big disconnect when people talk about it.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)