So Mr. Sweetie and I rented Little Miss Sunshine, because we've got Oscar Fevah! Or, at least, when we decided to rent a movie, it was the only one of the Best Picture noms that was out on DVD.
So, I can totally understand why this was a hit at Sundance. It's incredibly well acted, it's about a dysfunctional family, it's got drama and humor, and you can feel superior to everybody up to and including the beauty pageant contestants. It's got a great cast, and a great back story. But.
There's always a "but," isn't there?
We saw it as a Best Picture Academy Award Nominee, and it just was too weird for me. I mean, I love Toni Collette, and I think she's one of the most underappreciated actresses in Hollywood. Steve Carell is wonderfully wry, and Abigail Breslin is truly winsome. However, I never found myself caring about these characters.
With the possible exception of Toni Collette. Her frazzled mom is clearly the bedrock of the family, and she tries to let each member of the family be who they are. She tolerates her son's vow of silence, she supports her husband's goofy self-help empire-in-the-making. She's accepted her foul mouthed, heroin taking father in law, and immediately takes on the care of her suicidal brother. When Olive suddenly qualifies for a beauty pageant in California, it's Mom who makes the trip happen. She's a real person, and her life is just barely under control, but she finds love and joy.
There is something to be said about how each of the other characters have had their dreams shattered. Perhaps they have all been scarred by their failure to live up to the American Dream of success, and each of them responds in different ways. Steve Carell tries to commit suicide. Greg Kinnear retreats deeper into denial. Alan Arkin turns to drugs. Paul Dano screams his pain to the skies. The thing that redeems all of them, though, is how they refuse to let the littlest of them, Abigail Breslin, have her dream crushed. At the end, as her dad and brother are trying to keep her from going onstage, it is because they don't want her dreams to die so young. The reason they get on stage is to protect the fragile hope that still exists in her.
But seriously? They lost me at the "kidnapping the dead grandpa and stowing him in the back of the van" scene. I never for one minute believed that Greg Kinnear's character would do such an obviously illegal, disrespectful, strange and unhygenic thing. Toni Collette managed to convince me that he was fud up with her husband, but was going to continue to enable his wishes--and I didn't think that she'd put up with that either. Frankly, I thought they might have just walked away and come back the next day after the pageant--abandoning him to the clinic for 24 hours might have been technically improper, but was WAY less stupid than stealing the body.
Plus, dead bodies in cars? Haven't been funny for decades. Didn't Weekend at Bernie's signal the end of any dead body humor? And the stripper dance at the end? How different was that from the dolled up dancers in sequins and make-up that were the other contestants, really? Sure, she wasn't as polished as they were, but she was also not fundamentally different from them either. That's the whole squicky thing about children's beauty pageants--little girls are inappropriately sexualized, and they don't really understand what they are doing. Olive didn't either.
If it hadn't been nominated for Best Picture, I wouldn't have bothered watching this movie. Not even for free on TV on a Saturday afternoon while I sorted socks.