Thursday, January 25, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine and the Slow Life's values

I was pleased to see that Little Miss Sunshine has been nominated for best picture for the Oscars. It certainly carries the “slow” theme -- it’s a questioning of “success” as we’ve come to think of it. Being a winner of some sort, any sort. The dad wants to be a winner at the “motivational speakers” game and the daughter wants to win a beauty pageant. As the son says when he realizes that his dream of success is impossible, “Life is just a series of beauty pageants.” Yes indeed. We’re judged all of the time and almost always for putting on a false front, pretending that we’re something that we’re not. We’re always on show, always being judged by our appearances, rarely getting to be ourselves.

Little Miss Sunshine is in the tradition of two of my other favorite movies: Zorba the Greek and Harold and Maude. They’re all about “the great escape,” about narrowly missing getting what you thought you wanted, and finding that “failure” was better. They’re all about seeing through the conventional culture and coming to embrace the “counter” culture that rejects success as measured in wealth or status. In each movie there is a disturbing character that makes the main character question the status quo. For the young Englishman, it’s obviously Zorba. For Harold, it’s Maude. For the family of Little Miss Sunshine, it’s the outrageous grandfather played by Alan Arkin. In each one, there is a triumphant escape from becoming a success in the traditional sense.

But even though I really loved Little Miss Sunshine, I don’t think it can measure up to the other two. They each had a vision of life that involved a sense of something sublime and wonderful. Not so for Little Miss Sunshine. I think it’s a measure that our sense of what is possible in life has been diminished. However, maybe Little Miss Sunshine has something the others don’t. It affirms that the most important thing is your relationships. In the end only this movie has that theme.

It’s a wonderful movie and one we should remember when we begin to yearn for the “success” that we’ve been conditioned to want.

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