"Little Miss Sunshine"

What a terrific movie! It certainly shows that strong, loving families come in all different shapes and sizes. This was funny and sweet with zero saccharine. As the title of this film otherwise suggests, this is not a “chick-flick” or some kind of feel-good drivel about a precocious, obnoxious or sickeningly sweet child. It’s a very real portrayal of very real people who have their own particular demons and joys – just like all of us – and manage to see life’s overall picture anyway.

Alan Arkin was terrific as the grandfather. Who wouldn’t like him in spite of his drug-snorting, crude-mouth ways? “So what? I’m old!”, he retorted when a family member spoke of his drug addiction. He had a point there and remained grounded in familial loyalty to his fellow characters.

Steve Carell was the funniest suicidal character I’ve ever seen portrayed in any fictional work. His character’s observation (while pushing to jump start a burnt out old van) that he’s the world’s premier Proust authority is hysterical and philosophical at the same time. For him, and for the viewers, it certainly puts the world into pragmatic and realistic focus.

Toni Colette was, as usual, very adept at her characterization of the mother. She was poignantly torn between being carried away with her husband’s delusionary enthusiasm and the plain easy-to-see facts that she was overworked, underpaid and just barely able to throw KFC on the table at the end of the day. Her family was having significant difficulties, but she saw the overall picture too.

Greg Kinnear could have been portrayed as a one-dimensional creepy character with all the “charm” of a revival meeting evangelist bilking people out of their money. His role as a motivational speaker was much more than that. Sure, he was driven by money to a certain extent; but he was a true believer in his “7-Step Plan”. Nevertheless, he was not so out of touch that he couldn’t come back to earth when it really mattered to his family.

Paul Dano was “Dwayne” and Abigail Hoover was “Olive”. Their names are a little dorky and so were they. Dwayne had refused to speak aloud until he achieved his dream of becoming a pilot. Dano played him well as a pasty-faced, adolescent, pain-in-the-butt who isolated himself in his room, reading and re-reading Nietzsche. Though Nietzsche saw nihilism as the outcome of repeated frustrations in the search for life’s meaning, Dwayne transcended (as opposed to “coming down to earth”) this depressing philosophy by making his own meaning. He too saw the overall picture. Olive was a little chubby girl whose enthusiastic optimism nearly crashed during the initial stages of the pathological beauty pageant for little girls. She was rescued by her family while she rescued them.

I had a marvelous time watching this film. It was well-acted, well-directed and well-scripted. There were no special effects – just great art. It’s a wonderful way to say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and to see how the characters discover the difference between the “small stuff” and what’s really precious in life.



On 2001: A Space Odyssey

I just finished watching 2001 in high definition. I had forgotten how visually beautiful the film is, having seen it over the years in its VHS version, but seeing it in 1080i resolution on a wide screen LCD TV brings me back to my first viewing of the film, on a lovely summer day in the Washington DC of 1968, on a huge wide screen. In those days the theaters were pristine clean, and there really was an intermission in the middle of the film. As part of the price of admission we received a full color booklet on the film, which is probably a collector’s item now. I still remember the incredible sense of wonder inspired by the film. I couldn’t wait until the real 2001 arrived.

Among the things that strike me now watching the film 5 years after the year 2001 are how amazingly real the space special effects are, even by today’s standards, although in the final part, Beyond the Infinite, Kubrick is trying to do more than was possible in that era. Another strking characteristic of the film is its technological optimism, by far overestimating where we’d be in the real 2001, at least with regard to space exploration. It seems we have been frozen in time after the moon landings, still using the same space shuttle technology from the 1980’s into the 21st century. 2001 the movie came out a year before man landed on the moon. Now there are whole generations who were born after the last man set foot on the moon. When I was a boy landing on the moon was almost unimaginable, now it again seems unimaginable, but for different reasons.

The space program of the 1960’s was a wonderfully optimistic time, and 2001 captured that optimism. If the people of that time can be accused of being overly naive and guileless in their enthusiasm for space exploration, I believe people of our present time can be justly accused of being overly cynical and jaded. A lot has happened to change our country over the last 40 years, and the changes have not necessarily been all to our credit as a people. The saddest thing about watching the movie 2001 is comparing it to the events of the real 2001.