Saturday, August 19, 2006

219. movie recomendation: Little Miss Sunshine

Hard to believe it's been over one month since I've posted anything. I started a couple entries but never got around to finishing them, let alone posting them.

But I'm back.

At least for this entry...we'll see what happens henceforth.

"So where've you been?"

Well, I suppose I could say it was this or it was that but truth be told, I just didn't feel I had all that much to say. No, that's not the complete truth. The gritty truth of the matter is that I was lazy and unmotivated (not necessarily in that order).

And here's the strange thing. After a couple weeks or so, it got to the point where I felt like I had to have some kind of grand revelation in order to start posting again. See, before I stopped, one of the reasons I was posting so much was because of momentum. What I mean is, posting on a regular basis became something I felt like I need to keep up with just for the fact that I'd been doing it so consistently. On top of that, I knew people were reading and so I didn't want to let them down and so I kept posting even when I didn't feel like it.

And then when I stopped posting, it was like the opposite. I didn't post because I wasn't posting and it felt strange to just start up again without some kind of big epiphany.

But maybe all it took was a movie so amazingly great that I had to write about it.

And so here I am, writing and posting again.

"So what's the movie already!"

Okay, it's this little independent film called Little Miss Sunshine directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (who, judging by what's written about them in the Internet Movie Database, were both music video directors before this film). The film's cast includes the always brilliant Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, and Steve Carell.

But the true star of the movie is the writing and the story and all the unexpected moments of tenderness amid chaos. It's basically a road trip movie about a highly dysfunctional family trying to get from New Mexico to California so that their daughter/sister/neice/granddaughter can make it to a beauty pageant. And I know that sounds like a pretty drab pitch, but the genius is in the details - how the characters crash in to one another and the surprising sparks of tenderness and grace that come out of their conflicts.

I used to be a BIG movie guy. There was one year where I averaged at least one movie per week for about a year and a half. But for the past few years, I'm on a roll if I see one movie per month (and that includes both rentals and at the theater). Two reasons for the decline. First, one of the two main art-house theaters morphed into a $1 movie joint and second, I've just found that the general quality of recent movies (even promising art-house/independent flicks) ranges from mediocre and predictable to downright waste of time.

On the one hand, you have big, blockbuster movie franchises that either use flashy special effects to distract you from noticing all the holes in the plot or try to wow you with the over-used M. Night Shyamalan-style surprise/twist ending. And then on the other hand you have your artsy fartsy indie films that condescendingly mock middle-class suburbia (yeah, I'm talking to you Mr. Dynamite) or paint such a dark, bleak, cynical portrait of life that you want to slit your wrists during the end credits (see my review of the Woodie Allen film, Match Point in blog 158).

Is it just me, or does it seem like movies these days are just trying too hard?

Little Miss Sunshine has renewed my faith in movies. It's tough and tender and strangely believable considering how odd it's cast of characters are - a Proust scholar who tried to kill himself, a teenager who has taken on a self-imposed vow of silence after reading Nietzsche, a horny geriatric who snorts heroin, a failed motivational speaker, the mother who tries to keep this family together, and a little girl trying to get to her beauty pageant. It sounds like a cheap gimmick (put random characters in a VW bus and watch what happens) but what's great about the movie is how the core humanity of the characters bleeds through their angular exteriors.

And maybe the most amazing feat of the film is the way it ends happily, but in a way that's both unexpected and utterly satisfying. We live in such a cynical, skeptical society that happy endings that don't feel fake or cheap or kitschy are nearly impossible to pull off, but Little Miss Sunshine does just that.

Definitely one of my two favorite movies of 2006 so far (the other one being Inside Man - see blog 186).

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