Independent Film Analysis Term Paper

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¶ … Winning Doesn't Matter: A Critical Examination of Little Miss Sunshine

As scholar Timothy Corrigan suggests in his book a a Short Guide to Writing About Film, "[w]riting essays about films is, in short, one of the most sophisticated ways to respond to them" (iv). Corrigan further notes that there are six main approaches to writing about films that should be explored: history, national cinemas, genres, auteurs, formalism, and ideology. This paper reflects on Corrigan's advice to respond to films sophisticatedly by undergoing a critical examination of the popular independent film, Little Miss Sunshine and expands on the "ideology" approach of reviewing and analyzing films.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006) is a charming film with sophisticated elements of dark comedy subtly mixed in. On the film's surface, viewers initially may get caught up with the Hoover family's dysfunctional nature. However, the underlying layers of the film introduce viewers to the sweet and caring yet quirky personalities the six Hoovers exhibit in their every day lives.

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Little Miss Sunshine captures viewers hearts with its re-telling of a typical family experience: the road trip journey. Soon after the mother of the family, Sheryl, takes in her brother Frank, a highly acclaimed Proust scholar, after his recent suicide attempt, the Hoover family learns of the opportunity the youngest member, Olive, has to participate in a children's beauty pageant. Seven-year-old Olive is ecstatic when she hears the voice message on the family's machine, centrally located in the kitchen for all the Hoovers to hear while they are finishing their meal of take-out chicken at their crowded dinner table. The family watches as Olive races around their small house with joy, while Sheryl and her husband Richard, a struggling motivational speaker, argue about how they will get their daughter to California in 2 days time.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Independent Film Analysis Assignment

After much bickering, with Olive off in her room excitedly packing her duffle bag, the parents finally decide that they will make the trip driving in their seasoned VW van. but, of course, the entire Hoover clan must embark collectively on the journey. Olive's Grandpa, Richard's crotchety old father, who hides drugs in his fanny pack after being kicked out from a retirement home, has no qualms about the long trip seeing as he is Olive's unexpected pageant coach and dance instructor. Olive's brother Dwayne, an angst-filled teenager determined to maintain a vow of silence until he is accepted by the Air Force, is adamantly against the plan. Dwayne holds firm until his sister looks at him pleadingly and his mother promises to give him permission to take flying lessons. Olive's uncle Frank appears to have little say in the matter, seeing as Sheryl will absolutely not leave him alone after just being released from the hospital after his attempted suicide.

With the decision made, the Hoovers embark on their interstate trip to Redondo Beach. The film's portrayal of the trip is a mixture of dark, serious moments, combined with elements of sophisticated comic relief or sweet emotional sincerity. When Richard's publicist informs him his motivational program has been rejected from another publisher and he will not be getting the book deal he expected, the depressing scene is contrasted with Olive being left behind at the gas station where the call was taken. When Dwayne realizes that he is color-blind, signifying he cannot join the Air Force as he had dreamed, the only character who helps him cope with the blow is his sister Olive. As Dwayne breaks down and ends his vow of silence by running out of the van screaming, it is Olive who doesn't even have to say anything to him but simply places her small arm around his shoulder to calm him down. The love that only a brother and sister, despite the approximately 10-year age difference, can feel sweetens the moment and lessens the cruel reality Dwayne now faces.

But perhaps the hardest situation the family faces is the death of Grandpa, who passes away peacefully in his sleep in a hotel room he shares with Olive. The Hoovers unite, despite all their contrasting quirks and dysfunctional natures, after the death. In this solemn series of events, the characters of Little Miss Sunshine refuse to let Grandpa's death deter them from getting Olive to California in time for the pageant. The mantra of "No one gets left behind!" is exemplified as the Hoovers covertly, in yet another moment of comic relief, "steal" Grandpa's corpse from the hospital and place him wrapped in a sheet in the back of their VW van.

This sense of unity carries through the remainder of Little Miss Sunshine, as the Hoovers barely make it to California in time for Olive to sign in for the pageant. Throughout the entire film, each Hoover's temper and patience has been tested, and the final scene of the little girl's beauty pageant is no exception. However, the Hoovers again unite together, coming together in the most visually pleasing and delightful scene of the movie: joining Olive on-stage in her pageant dance performance. Seeing the joy and togetherness expressed on each character's face as they dance in front of a horrified audience of way-too-serious pageant parents, signifies that each Hoover has finally come together as the tight-knit family that they are.

II. Theme of the Individual and Collective Journey

In Little Miss Sunshine, the concept of a journey is without a doubt prevalent. Each character goes through a unique journey over the course of the family road trip. This journey, both literal and internal, begins at the very outset of the film. In the opening, the viewer is exposed to personal scenes of each character that serve as our introduction to each quirky character. The sequence serves as the beginning of the development process for each character, independently and individually. This is eventually contrasted with the film's closing scenes, which shows each character wrapping up his or her developmental journey together, as a family. As critic Manohla Dargis wrote, "like most American comedy families, [the Hoovers] are also a familiar social microcosm, a group of radically individualized souls in search of one another" (1).

The first character to embark on her journey is the young protagonist, Olive. The very first shot of the film is a close up shot of a young girl wearing oversized reading glasses. The glasses showcase her wide, blue eyes that stare out with a quizzical curiosity behind them. In the glasses, we see the reflection of a television screen, showing a woman smiling. The camera cuts to the television screen itself as we hear the voice over of the TV announcer saying "The winner of the $30,000 scholarship is Miss Louisiana!" The shot encompasses an ecstatic woman in her twenties, wearing large, sparkly earrings and bright red lipstick. As a tiara is placed on her head, the woman begins to excitedly flail her arms as if she cannot believe that she has won the Miss America competition. The scene on the television screen is suddenly paused, however, and the images rewind. The camera cuts to a wide, full-bodied shot of the little girl from the very beginning. She is holding a remote intently, wearing her hair in a long, low ponytail with a dated scrunchie in her hair. She un-pauses the recording, and raises her hands to her face with a look of surprise and joy. The camera cuts back to the recorded television show of the beauty pageant winner doing the exact same pose. The camera zooms out and we see the little girl standing in front of a big screen TV, now completely imitating the beauty queen's excited movements. This is our introduction to Olive, and her path and journey to hopefully, yet perhaps impossibly, winning the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty competition.

The second character journey immediately begins next. A new voice-over begins, a different man this time. "There are two types of people in this world. Winners and losers." The shot immediately switches to an image of a businessman lecturing in front of a presentation screen. He continues his motivational speech, pleading with his audience to follow his "9 Steps Refuse to Lose" program in order to bring out their "inner winners." From the way the man carries himself and the bright look in his eye, the viewer might believe that he is extremely successful himself. But then the camera pans out as he concludes his talk, and the lights come on in the lecture hall. There is only a small scattering of people listening to him. Their disheveled clothes suggest they are not professionals, but rather attending this talk as a last effort towards saving their miserable careers or lives. As only one or two audience members clap, the man presses a button to raise the projection screen, and looks pleased with himself. This is our introduction to Richard, Olive's father and his journey to becoming the successful winner he himself encourages others to be.

The third character journey begins with the camera immediately cutting to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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