This is the funniest film I’ve seen for ages, yet Little Miss Sunshine is also quite profound. It’s the story of a family travelling across America in a VW Camper van in order to get their young daughter to the final of the Little Miss Sunshine competition – a beauty pageant for 8 year-olds – in California.
They are undoubtely a dysfunctional family: The grandad has major issues and seems to have regrets about how he has lived his life; the father is trying to climb the ladder to self-help bliss by publishing a book about his 9-step programme; the son hasn’t spoken for nine months as he wants to get into flight school; and the brother has just tried to kill himself for unrequieted love. This doesn’t sound like a laugh, but with Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, and Steve Carell in the leads, it becomes hilarious. 😉
Ultimately they all fail. As each of them fails, they place their hope in the little girl’s beauty pageant. When she too fails in a spectaular way, this knits them together as a family in a way that they have never been before. They find a common hope in their combined failure.
It is primarily a film about identity. Each of the characters are trying to define themselves in a certian way. It is only after they all have admitted defeat that they are able to be real with each other.
In diagnosing the problem, the film gets a lot of things right about the world – certainly things that I can identify with. I cannot do it all on my own. Self-help is not enough, this may lead to some success, but ultimately, emptiness. I need other people. However, the film’s solution is only part of the answer. Opening up to each other can help break down barriers and lead to closer community. But fulfillment is not to be found in this community alone, without God at the centre. A community living for itself will ultimately break down too.
Jesus took our guilt and shame and failure and redeemed it. He is the one I must be real with, open up to, and consequently, find my identity in. Only through him can I relate to others in a deep way, unafraid of looking like a failure in the eyes of others.
See the trailer here.