Capture the Human Spirit
I don’t know about your family but mine is certainly not perfect. I don’t think there is a perfect family. At least all of the ones I thought were perfect have disappointed me at one time or another. Love and support is the thread that joins any family—no matter what the circumstances. This weekend I watched the strands of family support and love come together in the independent film, Little Miss Sunshine. Notice the subtitle on this film, “A family on the verge of a breakdown.” As the story notes on the film website say, “A runaway hit at the Sundance Film Festival, where it played to standing ovations, the film strikes a nerve with everyone who's ever been awestruck by how their muddled families seem to make it after all.”
Before going, I was a bit concerned because of the R rating—related to the language and drug use. The story evolves around Olive Hoover, a seven-year-old who competes in a Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest in California. She had visited a relative in California and become the runner up. When the first place contestant had to drop out, Olive gets to compete in the contest. The Hoovers live in Albuquerque and the contest is in the Los Angeles area. The family doesn’t have the funds to fly and the only way to get there is for everyone to go in a old VW van. On the way, the clutch goes out and the entire family has to push the car on a downhill slant to slip the car into third then fourth gear.
Each family member has a problem. No one is unscathed in the problem area. Here’s what the film site says about the different characters and the names of the various actors: “No one among the Hoovers quite has it together, but it’s not for lack of trying. Father Richard (GREG KINNEAR), a hopelessly optimistic motivational speaker, is desperately attempting to sell his 9-step program for success -- without much success. Meanwhile, the Hoovers’ “pro-honesty” mother Sheryl (TONI COLLETTE) is constantly harried by her family’s eccentric secrets, especially those of her brother (STEVE CARELL), a gay suicidal Proust scholar fresh out of the hospital after being jilted by his gay lover. Then there are the younger Hoovers with their unlikely dreams - the four-eyed, slightly plump, seven year-old would-be beauty queen Olive (ABIGAIL BRESLIN) and Dwayne (PAUL DANO), an anger-fueled, Nietzsche-reading teen who has taken a staunch vow of silence until he gets into the Air Force Academy. Topping off the family is the grandfather (ALAN ARKIN), a foul-mouthed pleasure-seeker recently kicked out of his retirement home for snorting heroin.”
This family has one disaster after another and the situations are laugh out loud funny. It’s been a while since I’ve laughed so hard during a movie. The plot has a number of surprising and touching twists. In particular, the ending (which I’m not going to spoil here) and how the family comes together to support Olive. It captured the human spirit in a remarkable fashion and becomes “a moving look at the surprising rewards of being losers in a winning-crazed culture.”
What impressed me about Little Miss Sunshine is how the film takes something pretty ordinary—a dysfunctional family where each member is struggling, then puts those people in a situation where they come together and show some deep feelings. It’s the best of storytelling and what we want to do with our own writing. You want the reader or the viewer to be pulling for your characters and the twist at the end was the icing for the story. Can you pull off this same excellent storytelling in your own fiction?