tek's rating: ¾

Little Miss Sunshine (R)
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This came out in 2006, but I didn't see it until 2017. Before I watched it, I knew fairly little about it, and I thought I'd probably put my review under "comedy." But while watching it, I started thinking I'd more likely put it under "serio-comedy," because there are some very dramatic elements to the movie. But ultimately, I had to put it under "quirky," because really, it's one of the quirkiest movies I've ever seen.

Anyway, there's this 7-year-old girl named Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin), who is obsessed with beauty pageants. Her grandfather, Edwin (Alan Arkin), has been coaching her to enter a local pageant (they live in New Mexico), though the rest of their family hasn't seen any of the training. (One might suspect Edwin isn't the best person for this task, considering he recently had to move in with his son and daughter-in-law, Olive's parents, after being kicked out of his retirement home for snorting heroin.) Meanwhile, Olive's father, Richard (Greg Kinnear), is obsessing over a book deal he's waiting to hear back about. He'd developed a 9-step motivational program, by which he lives his life (and tries to make his family live theirs), and he hopes this will lead to fame and fortune. And all his talk about winners never quitting, and whatnot, puts a great deal of pressure on Olive. And at the start of the movie, Richard's wife, Sheryl (Toni Collette), brings her brother, Frank Ginsberg (Steve Carell), home to stay with them, after he had attempted suicide. And the final member of the family is Olive's teenage older brother, Dwayne, who had taken a vow of silence nine months earlier. He reads a lot of Nietzsche, and he wants to become a test pilot. (I have no idea what his not speaking has to do with that, but whatever.)

Well, on the same day Sheryl brings Frank home to live with her family, they receive a call from Olive's aunt, with whom she had stayed for awhile in California. She had been runner up in a beauty pageant out there, and now her aunt informs them that the winner had been disqualified. So Olive will get to represent her aunt's region, I guess, in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. This means she and her family will have to go to California. They drive there in an old VW bus, which soon turns out to require repairs that they haven't got time to wait for. So... they do some very dangerous (and yet comical) driving on their long road trip. And... well, there's a lot of funny stuff in the movie, and some serious stuff, which I don't want to spoil. But I will say, you know, I've never really approved of beauty pageants for little kids. (Not that I'm wild about adult beauty pageants, either, but at least I think adults should be able to choose to take part in such things, if they want to. But children shouldn't.) And when they get to the pageant, I just found it sickening how objectified all the little girls made themselves, and deeply disturbing that their parents were okay with it. (And I suspect not all the adults in the audience were even related to any of the contestants, which is even sicker.) But when Olive finally does the dance routine her grandfather had taught her, to the song he had chosen... the audience and pageant staff are horrified. I don't want to spoil any specifics about that, but I do want to say that, while her routine was perhaps more overtly provocative than some of the other girls' performances, I actually thought that in a strange way, it was more funny and innocent than the others. And what really pissed me off is that the only reason anyone could be so offended by her performance is if they assumed there was no sort of sexualization of any of the other girls going on. That the whole pageant was purely innocent, when it couldn't help but be obvious to any rational observer that every single aspect of the pageant was inherently objectifying and offensive. So, what I'm saying is, all the people who were offended by Olive's performance were hypocrites of the highest order.

And I guess that's all I want to say about the plot, except that the movie really is a good look at a family struggling with each of their own issues, which leads to some dysfunction between them, but ultimately they all manage to come together and support each other. So, it's a fairly touching story. But mostly it's a weird comedy peppered with moments of both dark humor and just plain darkness. I don't know if I'll ever feel like watching it again, but I'm really glad I finally saw it.

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