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Theater of the Absurd: A Review of "Little Miss Sunshine"

January 16th, 2007 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

My brother has been kicking around existentialism in relation to Children of Men. He writes, "Watching the film, I came to realize that most people evade the true force of "the absurd" because we know life goes on for others, even when we're gone." The description could not be more fitting for Little Miss Sunshine, a quirky, sometimes offensive, and downright intriguing and excellent film.

The film is relentless in placing the family it follows in difficult, awkward, and bitter situations. And the directors do not blink, allowing the camera to soak up every strange glance, awkward silence, and farcical situation.

*spoilers*

The story follows a hilariously dysfunctional family as they journey to Redondo Beach for a beauty pageant that the daughter is invited to. The father is a failing motivational speaker while the wife is trying to keep things together. Her brother is the world's leading expert on Proust who has just attempted suicide, and her son hasn't been speaking for nine months. And then there's the grandfather, who was kicked out of the retirement home for heroine use.

There is, no surprise, a significant amount of conflict in this not-so-happy home, especially when the trip begins and everything that could go wrong does.

Yet the most intersting aspect of the story is its resistance to the "beauty pageants" of which life consists. The son reads Nietsche, while the father utters empty cliches. They are brought together as a family only when the daughter suffers the inevitable embarrasment during the pageant, an embarrasment that exposes the emptiness of the show and demonstrates the triumph of authentic relationships. Only then does the family seem connected.

The film is a stinging critique of the vanity of much of human life. Only when confronted by death, by failure, by shattered dreams does the family enter into relationships that are freeing and real. And along the way, the film exposes and obliterates every sense of "propriety" and "decency" and "decorum" in the viewer, as we are brought to sympathize with otherwise offensive people. It is a masterful film and worth every minute of your time. Though you may be squeamish and offended, you will not be disappointed.

Oh, and did I mention it's hilarious?  It is.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.