December 25, 2006

Highly praised movie...

... that really was not very good: "Little Miss Sunshine."

My, our standards have fallen, if this was critically praised.


Ensconced In Academia said...

I didn't like this movie. Many other people did. Therefore, their standards are lower than mine.

That's not the most convincing argument.

JohnF said...

I thought the acting was terrific--great characterizations by everyone, especially Alan Arkin and Steve Carell. The plot was so-so, I grant you, but the ending made me laugh and have good feelings for the family. All in all, I think the Rotten Tomatoes 92% rating was fair, though maybe a smidge high.

MrBuddwing said...

I saw the movie as the story of a middle-class family trapped in a terrifyingly mediocre existence, but who is able to transcend that oppression through their love for each other, a love which they must discover along the way.

All of which makes the movie sound a lot more serious than it is - actually, I thought it was very funny.

Ron said...

I found it awkward and unfunny. I am also now officially done with the 'dysfunctional family' meme.

Susan said...

I loved the road trip but once they reached their destination, I thought it was awful.

Kyle said...

I loved the movie all the way thru, the whole thing. "America's top Proust scholar." Hah.

By the way, what's with the Weblogs? I missed out on the ruckus because I don't come here too often, but I gather that 1) you got in a snit because "The Moderate Voice" did not show you proper respect 2) you actively campaigned for the "best centrist" award, telling your readers to indulge in multiple voting 3) TMV told its readers not to vote for them, taking a sort of give-the-baby-her-bottle tone 4) you still wound up losing, while 5) TMV won. Wow. Do you see this as a personal rebuke?

Revenant said...

I missed out on the ruckus because I don't come here too often, but I gather that [blah blah blah]

Since you obviously didn't "gather" that from reading this blog, why not go to where you gathered it from and ask them? Or, alternately, actually read the relevant posts and educate yourself thereby?

Medopine said...

Great acting is worth nothing to ya, huh?

Donn said...

A terrible movie! It's not funny, it's not cute, and the ending is far from heartwarming.

I have one rule of thumb for any critic's list of best movies of 2006.....if this movie is on it.....I won't even consider what they have to say about their other top choices, since they obviously have very bad taste!

Craig said...

Meh... In the spirit of the season, I'll just point to a widely-panned movie I saw today and (despite it's serious flaws) I enjoyed enormously - Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the movie so I will reserve judgement until I do (there are only two movie screens within an hour's drive of here-- and they only show a handful of movies). However the dysfunctional family/roadtrip theme can be quite funny. For example, I really liked "RV" this year.

Ann Althouse said...

"I saw the movie as the story of a middle-class family trapped in a terrifyingly mediocre existence, but who is able to transcend that oppression through their love for each other, a love which they must discover along the way."

The thing is that's a big cliché in the movies (and sitcoms). I was ready to enjoy the characters, and the actors are great. But it just wasn't well-written. They tell you someone's a Proust scholar, but there's nothing relevant to Proust other than that. The same with Nietzsche. We see the kid reading the Nietzsche book a lot, but what does he ever say or do that relates to that? Nothing!

Other fairly recent dysfunctional family movies that I've seen and can think of to compare it to are "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Napoleon Dynamite." Those are so much better, because, among other things, all the detail is funny and interesting.

As for the material about child beauty pageants, it's thin and stale. It shows no understanding of the way families might be drawn into this lifestyle. The writers just didn't take the trouble to learn their subject. They were smugly content to view it from a distance and relied on the cheap device of tarting up all the girls but our little heroine. They looked down on all the people other than her and her family. Compare "Smile," a movie that gets inside beauty pageants.

Ann Althouse said...

And that little girl really should not have been encouraged to eat more ice cream and waffles! They want us to look down on the other families whose girls are working on eating disorders, but Olive was overweight. (I think the actress was wearing some sort of padded suit to give her a ridiculously distended abdomen.)

Michael Farris said...

"Compare "Smile," a movie that gets inside beauty pageants."

I love "Smile"!!! Possibly on my all time top 20 list.
Great performances and it was able to show the sweet, cynical, charming and creepy aspects of beauty pageants all at the same time in ways where the cynicism was a direct result of the sweetness (and vice versa).

Ron said...

Plus, there's all this obcession with competing, but in the end, the little girl shrugs, and everyone goes YAY! What tha?!?

Ron said...

Plus, no one had a clue what grampa might be teaching the little girl, given his one note nature for the majority of the film? Most of the parent/daughter combos are somehow offensive, but Miss California, she's not only OK, but a role model? Good thing we're not uptight like the Anita Bryant crowd; we've got our little girl already learning to give lap dances!

The whole thing seems a mess.

Pogo said...

Ouch! Man, you hated this movie.

I thought it was sweet. Yeah, the beauty pageant stuff was ham-handed. I was all set to hate this movie. I detest dysfunctional family The Upside of Anger (that one made me mad it was so awful). But I liked Steve Carell's character (some great lines), and the Mom and Dad were novel and poignant. The son was at first the dreaded Teen Goth, but it wasn't quite that alone; odd and he was actually nice at times.

In the end, it was just silly and funny. I loved the dance at the end. It was a trifle, and a good one. Not a Great Movie that I'll watch over and over. But I'd see it again. Just for fun.

Anonymous said...

If you'd like to see a movie that's even more overrated by critics, see Rocky Balboa. Holy cow, was that awful.

Ann Althouse said...

I hated the dance in the end. First, as Ron notes, it was utterly unbelievable that the family had no idea what her dance was like or even what music she'd been listening to all that time. Second, the family going on stage was not ... staged well. It just didn't make sense in context that the family would be able to get on the stage and carry on that long. And the tension between that family and the other pageant families was never handled properly. I understood the conventional movie situation that it was supposed to represent, where everything breaks loose and the cool people show their stuff, and the uptight people get their comeuppance. I've been watching that movie for 40 years. But it wasn't built up properly.

We spent most of the movie on a road trip that was mostly about irrelevant problems with the car, and we never got inside pageant life enough for it to matter that the uptight people got their comeuppance.

There was that one lady with the big hair who was supposed to symbolize what we were expected to automatically understand we were supposed to hate. She was, essentially, the Nurse Ratched of the movie. But she was paper thin, a nobody. The moviemakers just assumed we already knew the story and were on board and knew how to react.

BTW, there are alternate endings on the DVD. I haven't watched them yet, but their mere existence suggests the moviemakers really didn't know what they were doing.

Pogo said...

As I said, ouch.
I dunno. The parents were out of touch enough to let Grandpa supervise, overburdened by the cares of the day, and just hoped it came out okay.

I saw the dancing by the family as spontaneously bad, goddawful, stupid, awkward, attempting to help ((but making it worse) and therefore funny. They seemed to be having fun and were oblivious to the reaction. And she lost, and nobody got up and cheered (which was more like real life). In Hollywoodland, she'd have been crowned by the won-over crowd.

I didn't need much preparation about the pageant, cause when suspended disbelief is asked for, I give and give.

It was fluff. And my reference point was the execrable RV with Robin Williams, which I'd sen just a few weeks prior. In comparing the two, RV made me want to die, Sunshine made me smile for a minute.

But what do I know? Nothing. My expectations are low. Make me smile. Make me cry. Make me feel something. Make me wonder.
They succeeded where RV failed, and for that I was grateful. I give them a B minus.

George said...


I liked Rocky a lot. A very sentimental, old fashioned movie, one that probably has more appeal to women than men.

It's about how a 60-year-old widowed man tries to connect with his son, find a new love, help his bedraggled friends, and once again prove his own self worth.

Take away the sloppy 5-minute boxing sequence at the end and you've got a Hallmark Cards holiday TV movie.

katiebakes said...

Other dysfunctional family movies that I enjoyed more: The Royal Tenenbaums and The Squid and the Whale.

Ann Althouse said...

I love "The Royal Tennebaums." (Haven't see "The Squid...")

Ron said...

I agree with you Ann, "Tennebaums" is hilarious. "Squid?" Eh. Do I really need reminders of how people can damage each other in a broken marriage? I lived it, so no thanks.

I'm not asking for brain surgery from a film, but when a reasonably bright filmgoer immediately sees flaws without trying hard, c'mon, show some effort.

I didn't find "Blair Witch" scary when I thought the kids acted like morons, and my empathy for them being chased through the woods went to zero.

When I started guessing Tom Hanks' dialog in "Saving Private Ryan" before he said it, I didn't care how much WWII Olive Drab they used.

Films take a long time to make, with a lot of people involved. If your livin' with it, you should be able to spot the obvious shortcomings.

Christopher Althouse said...

I agree with Susan, back towards the top of this discussion. Almost everything before they got to the beauty pagent made me want to say I loved the movie, but the big scene towards the end was embarrassing to watch. Much like About A Boy, where a cringe-worthy child performance scene takes away from all the great stuff that came before it.

Christopher Althouse said...

By the way, I have no problem with movies that look down on child beauty pagents. There is something very creepy about those things that deserves to be satirized, but it would probably be better explored in a more artistic, serious movie. I'd like to see David Lynch do something like that. But when you make fun of the sexualization of children in a comedy the movie itself starts to seem a bit pedophilic, and that made the ending hard to watch.

Elizabeth said...

Christopher, thanks for two things: I kept trying to hone in on the movie scene LMS's finale evoked but couldn't remember it. It was "About a Boy."

I also agree that the satire of the finale was well-intended but creepily off mark. I didn't like seeing a child put into the position of performing the satire on the ugly sexualizing of children. From the moment the family broke up into their hotel rooms, I became uncomfortable: the kid's sleeping with grandpa and his stash of porn? Ugh. I couldn't follow how the narrative went from there to the end being an actual satire; after all, it's creepy grandpa who choreographed her act.

Pogo said...

Looks like I was wrong. Again.

James said...

I was not offended by the satire of beauty pageants as oversexualized, but it fit awkwardly with the salacious dance performed by Olive herself. We had child sexualization we were supposed to view as bad and child sexualization we were supposed to view as good, and it was never really clear why one was bad and the other was good.
The movie had funny moments but I, too, found it generally overrated.

Anonymous said...

Ann, I'm disappointed in your review. Yes, the dysfunctional middle-class family story is overused in movies and sitcoms; but then you seem to regret that the makers of this film didn't resort to more tired cliche's, or make this movie more predictable.

I was grateful that the seemingly inevitable reference to Proust or Nietzsche never materialized. I knew that this would frustrate the academics in the audience, who so much wanted the writers to include some joke that they could explain to their date. I'm not sure why the writers (no doubt familiar with Proust and Nietzsche) chose to leave out some tired reference to "whatever doesn't kill us only makes us stronger", but their decision was correct.

I'm surprised that I have to point this out, but just stating that someone is the number one Proust scholar in the US, and that he's in a heated competition with number two, is amusing, without further obscure references to the author's work.

You stated that "Napoleon Dynamite" had more funny details; I think that you were hoping for more of this sort of humor, a humor that stems from recognizing arcane or outdated social references, and this movie was more...timeless.

And I can't even begin to understand your characterization of this movie as unfair to the organizers of creepy child beauty pageants; or the idea that the little girl shouldn't be encouraged to eat ice cream. Children should be chubby; and ice cream has calcium. Little girls can't get too much calcium.

And you didn't like the dance at the end because it wasn't handled properly -- it wasn't staged like all of the other movies you've seen with a similar climactic scene. But the thing is, it wasn't meant to represent the "conventional movie situation" where the "cool people show their stuff" and the "uptight people get their comeuppance". This didn't happen -- only a few people clapped at the end of their dance, and Olive didn't win.

You pointed out that we never got inside pageant life. No, how could we? The family we were riding with was new to this too; didn't the look of growing shock on the father's face make this clear?

This was a small movie with a few moving moments (Olive asking her grandfather what would happen if she lost, for example), that featured a great cast, great acting, some really funny bits, and a very realistic portrayal of a little girl similar in some ways to my own daughter. Maybe that's why I liked it.

Anonymous said...

Ann Althouse wrote:
And that little girl really should not have been encouraged to eat more ice cream and waffles! They want us to look down on the other families whose girls are working on eating disorders, but Olive was overweight.

I didn't really like the film either (AFAIC, it's the biggest waste of talented actors in a trite and condescending slice of epater le bourgeois American Beauty), but I think the point of that scene was more about everyone else being royally p***ed off at a passive-aggressive bully.