Little Miss Sunshine
|May 24, 2012||Posted by Jane Lu under entertainment, lifestyle, reviews|
Recently I watched a 2006 comedy called Little Miss Sunshine. Not only did I find the movie funny and interesting, but I also found it very inspiring.
Little Miss Sunshine follows the story of the Hoover family. Sheryl Hoover, the mother of two children, Dwayne and Olive, lives in New Mexico with her husband, Richard, who works as a motivational speaker and life coach. He is a person who believes that if you work hard and try your best then you will reach success, which he often refers to as the “nine steps to success”. Dwayne is an unhappy teenager who has decided to stop speaking until he is accepted into the US Air Force Academy, where he can accomplish his dream of being a pilot. Olive is a seven-year-old chubby little girl who dreams to be a beauty queen. The family also lives with Richard’s father, Edwin, who is a second world war veteran but was evicted from a retirement home because of his involvement in selling and taking heroin. Sheryl’s brother, Frank, is a gay scholar who has just survived a failed suicide attempt and has temporarily moved in to stay with the family. Finding himself in a rather awkward position in the family, he begins to get quite close to Dwayne as they both find life at home rather annoying, especially when Sheryl and Richard argue.
The story starts with Olive being notified that she has qualified to enter the “Little Miss Sunshine” children’s beauty pageant in California, which will be held in two days’ time. Olive is very excited and dying to go, so although money is tight the family decide to go together in their rather old yellow minibus, despite Dwayne’s reluctance. Tension breaks out during the trip: the minibus breaks down; Edwin dies of a heroin overdose and the family end up smuggling the body out of the hospital so they can arrange for a funeral after the pageant; Dwayne discovers that he is colour blind and could never be a pilot, and hence breaks his vow of silence; and Frank runs into his ex-boyfriend. Despite all that happens on the way the family eventually manage to unite.
When they reach California, Olive nearly gets refused entry to the pageant as she is four minutes late. As Olive finally prepares for the contest, the family notices the other competitors, who are all very sexualized – their thin bodies, heavy make-up and sexual poses are very different from Olive, who is just a chubby, un-styled little girl. Seeing this, Richard and Dwayne want to stop Olive entering the competition so she won’t be laughed at, but Sheryl stops them, arguing that this is Olive’s dream and that she should be given a chance to go for her dreams, letting “Olive be Olive.”
When it is Olive’s turn to perform, unlike the other girls who performed gymnastics or dances, she instead performs a dance routine her grandfather Edwin had prepared her for: Rick James’ Super Freak. Olive’s innocent burlesque performance horrifies the audience and she is demanded to be removed from the stage. Yet, ironically, her family all go up on stage to join the dance. Consequently, Olive is banned by the police from entering any more beauty pageants in California. The movie ends with the family happily going home in their mini bus.
Throughout the trip, the family undergoes an evolution, especially Richard who finally understands that success is not just about the nine steps. The comedy is quite sarcastic in its message behind the screen, which not only gives a smile but also leaves me with some deep thoughts.
Through Richard, the American dream is being mocked. The American dream is always referred to as the idea of: “if you work hard and try your best, you will succeed”; it does not matter who you are, because if you go for your dreams, everyone can be the future president of the United States of America. Yet, where does success comes from? Is success just about hard work? The American dream after all is perhaps just a fantasy, a fairytale that gives hope to people who are chasing after their dreams for success. In reality, success is not just about hard work, it also involves the environment that we are in. Sometimes, people are born to fame owing to their background, and might only be a few steps away from success; some may not be as fortunate because they are not competing in such an ideal environment, and their road towards success might not be as smooth. For example, despite Richard’s strong faith in being a “winner” and his ideas of perfectionism he and his family are actually nowhere near the word “perfect”. Sometimes, you work hard for something but it does not guarantee success, just as Olive practices hard for her Super Freak dance routine but it isn’t to the taste of the judges, who think it is too inappropriate in a sexualized way.
Or did Olive lose in this competition because of America’s double standards? The other girls were also equally sexualized in their appearance and pose, yet they were not criticized. America has always been ‘famous’ for its double standards: President George W. Bush tried to ‘unsign’ the International Criminal Court treaty that was signed in 2000 by President Bill Clinton, however he still expected other nations to honour signed treaties; or America’s double standards in dealing with disputes in the Middle East, for example the way the country believes in “democracy and freedom”, yet supported and aided long-time Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. America has set up a list of rules for the world and expects other nations to uphold it when the Americans themselves d0 not, but rather set up another set of rules to suit themselves.
Indeed, it seems that America not only has double standards in terms of its political stage, but that these double standards are also present in its society. According to The Economist, Don Imus offended the women’s basketball team from Rutgers University by making a racist comment and “MSNBC has dropped his television show and CBS radio has suspended him for two weeks” as a punishment for his actions. Some argue, however, that other black comedians such as Eddie Murphy or Chris Rock also use similar words that are sensitive in a racial context and yet are not punished.
I think what makes Little Miss Sunshine such an excellent comedy is not only its sarcasm against America and the nation’s “ideals” but the great theme of childhood. On the surface, the Hoover family does argue quite a lot, sometimes about trivial matters. Yet, deep inside, they still care for each other and are always together as a team when they are in difficulties, particularly when Grandpa Edwin unfortunately passes away. In my opinion, what holds the family together after all is Olive. It is Olive who awakens Richard from his dream of perfectionism, it is Olive who makes Dwayne realise his colour blindness and teaches him to enjoy life, it is also Olive who opens up Frank after his suicide attempt. In other words, Olive is the centre of the family’s unification. It is amazing how strong and powerful childhood can be. Indeed, our childhood might be one of the best times of our lives, and one of our fondest memories to look back on. Perhaps it is the innocence and immateriality that will always make us smile. Those were the times when everyone was truly a “Little Miss Sunshine”.