Concussed thoughts on Little Miss Sunshine
After a significant fall over the weekend, I have lillypaded between some migraine-strained thoughts and an impetus to document more given how much memory presupposes certain skills and virtues, particularly academically. In addition, I wanted to see if any third-party adjudication would confirm the suspicious effects of concussion. It seems good so far, yet I could have lost thousands of brain cells. Anyway, given all the free time I’ve had after quietly falling out with the University of Law (another time, another place it’ll invariably arise somewhere else) I’ve taken to re-watching a rare gem of ‘Indywood’ cinema, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. This was perhaps, my 30th visitation to the film. I wouldn’t mind writing a dissertation on it.
1. The armslength presence of two dead 19th-century Europeans, Nietzsche and Proust (through Dwayne and Frank respectively), in the film might suggest certain critical outlooks to screenwriter Michael Arendt’s ethos or authorial message. This concerns primarily a world, an American world specifically (this is important, I feel) predicated on the uncompromising binary of success or failure; and of appreciation in one’s own time, and the value of one’s remunerative potential given the brevity we all face.
Both Nietzsche and Proust were critically and commercially lacklustre during their lifetimes, both largely confined to their beds and their bedrooms but can, we draw any inferences about the present-day failures of the Hoover family from their inclusion? It seems unlikely that Frank’s scholarship on Proust will be read in a hundred years although not impossible, yet this seems to be a marginal point to an otherwise larger question: both Nietzsche and Proust were, to place it modestly, suffered the indignities of health problems, that resulted in their early passing. Yet, their texts, while not easily distilled and prone to contradiction express a commonality in soaring to new prescriptive lifestyles that would overcome the personal limits of their bodies. Perhaps the only reason America doesn’t have more Nietzshchean and Proustian types owes to the fact most of them are in working in Hollywood or parochial academic environments. Maybe there’s a profounder point that will reveal itself on closer reading of Proust (just purchased a rather lovely edition of Swann’s Way).
2. Although at the dinner table scene and a host of others, there is an evident animosity between the step-paternity of Richard (Greg Kineear) and Dwayne (Paul Dano) yet both in their personal ‘philosophies’ strive to some greater emancipation. Dwanye, with his affinity to a certain strain of Nietzschean overcoming (whether misunderstood or otherwise, given that Nietzsche’s highest expression of the will to power does not prescribe a daily work-out in pursuance of the vocation of fighter pilot) that he holds will lead to wish fulfilment. So too, Richard’s ‘Nine step refuse to lose programme’ an almost totalizing pseudo-philosophy (perhaps not as any more juvenile, ill-thought and prone to fallacy than Nietzsche anyway) that will be all-too common to those that have attended any large hotel-hosted corporate expo or the more exotic shores of LinkedIn, expresses a desire to live a life without deteriorating Volkswagon vans and so on.
3. What conclusions can we draw about success from the film’s final scenes? Despite the spectre of bankruptcy, suicide, the adverse effects of colourblindness, death, academic demise and above all the realisation of a childhood, we are left with an open-ended narrative that leaves the door open to a predictable, if warm and fuzzy, ‘third way’ free of haranguing and sermonizing. If it is not as if these ills do not exist, merely that the film’s creators suggest that they dissolve under certain conditions. ‘Grief support groups and success, both academic and economic may play their part but the key thing that matters in excelling is suffering’? To what does this pertain? The film doesn’t romanticise itself to suffering, merely resign itself to the fact it is an impersonal force that must be accepted: “Sir! You are not the only person who has had someone die here today okay?!” the Janus-like Linda hectors after a consolatory entrance. Frank may hold a dissimilar outlook in the Redondo Beach scene: “You don’t get better suffering years than that!” Suffering is just a given, like American military intervention or inequality. Is that unfair? These ideas need further embellishing.
4. I am conflicted to ascertain whether the film’s outlook tilts towards conservatism or a certain kind of progressivism. There is a certain kind of strained optimism of the family unit that emerges, but it is certainly not the kind of family unit that would win endorsement of ‘Secretary Rumsfield and I [George Bush Jr]’, as seen in the motel scene. With statistics this next narrative point is blind, yet we can say, that with average wages for the median American family in relative stagnation since the seventies, the economic prospects of the Hoover family could serve as a metonym for what the average American looks like in a time of corporate ascendancy, albeit one with more fuzzier, risqué edges. The film might be, in the amplest sense, populist, appealing to the broad possible human themes. The Volkswagon van, almost inseparable from the iconography of a carefree counter-culture, may not be a coincidence. In addition, during the “police search” scene as the trunk is opened, a faded bumper sticker reads “Honor Student”. Is this a paean to past, yet unfruitful, success or just a ‘happy accident’ on the part of the production/props department? No philosophy, nor time and hard-work can bear fruit. After all, Olive works tirelessly for a wildly incongruous routine that proves inappropriate for a pageant that is both pornographic and prudish.
It is not as if problems are up for a happy-clappy dissection and slap on the back. Indeed, Richard attempts to supress details of Frank’s suicide; Richard and Cheryl, Richard and Stan Grossman all argue away from the eyes and, what they expect, ears of others, just like any adult person would.