Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shout Out For A Little Sunshine

I saw a movie last night which inspired me to write something after a brief hiatus. There was a lot going on in the world, with seismic shifts in the Middle East and super storms and digging out from some of the karmic wreckage which occasionally accumulates in any life, I suppose. But Little Miss Sunshine, a 2006 gem which won an Oscar for best original screenplay that year, lifted me out of the funk I was in. It's about a family, the Hoovers,  on a road trip to California to enter their daughter in a beauty pageant. The family is a take on average dysfunctional America, with a father who has sunk the family's savings into a self-improvement scam he has authored and fervently believes in, a teenage son alienated from humanity, a gay uncle who has just failed at suicide, and a crude, politically incorrect grandfather who snorts heroin. It's a satire on a hyper-competitive society which warps children, adults and families, and it made me laugh in self-recognition. That's the beauty of comedy when it's serious and well-intentioned in that it can treat of close-to-home truths that can be really so painful. It can also strike hammer blows for transcendent truths and this movie does, coming down emphatically on the side of genuine being, as opposed to the artifice of achievement that characterizes our neurotic culture.

A bit of honest disclosure would reveal that just hours before watching the movie, Susan and I had had a long conversation about the appropriate role of youth sports in our family life, with me taking the position that sports teach truths about winning and losing and learning to take a little of both, and Susan coming down on the side of "there's too much competition and not enough time for genuine personal growth in kid's lives." And even though she is undoubtedly right, we are way too competitive and it's way too much about achievements at earlier and earlier ages, I really do believe that in moderation, athletic competition can be a great educational benefit. I guess the key is the word moderation, which when lacking can give horrible results. And in general, moderation is passe. Little Miss Sunshine is about growing and living and coping as a moderate being in an immoderate world. If that describes you and your life, I recommend this movie. Also worth it are great performances by Steve Carrell of The Office as the gay uncle, and Alan Arkin as the crackpot grandfather.
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