Thursday, September 07, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

Although Little Miss Sunshine has many flaws, it belongs to the categories of movies I love, movies Christian film-maker would never make. And I’m not talking about the compassionate portrayal of homosexual, although it would be interesting to see...a film about the life of Julien Green for instance.

But what Little Miss Sunshine exults in is the flakiness of a family. Christian movies exult in normalcy, and in propriety. And in most Christian fiction and film, normalcy is the thing one aims to return to. Perhaps because the typical Christian novel is often a slice-of-life story about a lost confused soul who, through the help of a knowing wiser Christian, returns to the joys of a normal life. And this return to normalcy – the rural homestead, the happy suburban lifestyle, the nuclear family– is often seen as a kind of return to the Edenic state. But this very addiction to normalcy is what makes Christian movies so unfulfilling for those of us who have flaky abnormal families.

Little Miss Sunshine is the story of a dysfunctional family which contains a sexual minority (a gay brother who is suicidal) an ethnic minority (Jews), a depressed son, a too-sexually-open old man, and a workaholic dad whose commitment to perseverance and excellence probably hides a wounded soul...the kind of woundedness the average man doesn’t speak about. Although Jesus called us to walk in truth, this kind of truthfulness is not discussed in American Christian movies. And if it is discussed, the people involved in these situations are seen as needing to return to the fellowship of normalcy, common decency, middle-class behavior, racial expectations, and the American ideal of emotional and familial success.

The story is about a contest, the Little Miss Sunshine, which is a little girl beauty pageant dedicated to all that is American. One might even call it a pageant whose very purpose is to show the utter wonderfulness of Purity, Joy, and the various masks of perfection. A true American, in short. By some odd luck, Olive the beloved daughter of the family, has made it into the finals of this contest. The family is not in a good financial position – and they’re none too happy with each other. (And being a good little ethnic family, they don’t have that American trait of keeping quiet.) But because of little Olive, they decide to take the trip to the pageant in their beaten up van. Of course a lot happens on the trip.

Little Miss Sunshine is pleasant, and it is not as funny as it could be. It contains some profane languages and some shots of pornographic materials. This is not a film a Christian should take her family to. And yet it is so much about family values. Those saved Christians who do fit into categories rarely seen in films or novels will like it. It is about accepting one’s family as they are, accepting one’s own oddball behavior, and rejecting those values the American society has trained us to see as the right and true values...those values which we try to fit into but which we inately know to be wrong or at the very least...not for us.

Christian novels and films often equate sanity with holiness, and returning to societal norms as true repentance. In such a state, how can the flaky individual thrive or accept herself or her family? Isn’t there a danger of cookie-cutter Christians and cookie-cutter arts which train people to clamp down on the personality God gave them. No, I’m not saying that God makes people gay. And as I said, there are some things in this movie that a Bible-believing Christian will find offensive. But we should remember that John the Baptist stayed in the wilderness. Far from fellowship. And that Jonah didn’t like the Ninevites, and didn’t seem to like humanity in general, liking only animals and nature.

Little Miss Sunshine is about the dangers of democratizating our souls, about the dangers of trying to belong to a community where a false ideal is raised as the ideal for everyone. It tells us that people are truly quite different in interests, tastes, skills, and education. Again, it addresses elements of earthly pain that Christian art just doesn't: isolation, for one. And the isolation is never healed or judged but understood.
Rated three stars. Many instances of profanity and a frank discussion of homosexuality.

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