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.


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.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Great review, Matthew. A wise man once said that artists, such as the ones who did “Little Miss Sunshine,” function in society the way birds do in mineshafts. When they start displaying ugliness and emptiness, it’s a good bet the culture is ugly and empty.

    Since I’m in a pessimistic mood after reading Tocqueville (all his worst fears for democracy seem to be realized now in America) I predict that we’ll see many more films like this. In fact, I think that films like this will be the only films to which the public and critics attribute artistic value (critics already seem to have taken this step).

    Interestingly, your review sounded like it was of “Fight Club” except for the parts about family.

    My soul can only take so much darkness, so I think I’ll pass on LMS, but thanks for the heads up on it.

    If you want another dark but deep film, check out “All the King’s Men.” Its view on the extent to which politic can solve problems (not very far) is surprising given the sorts of actors involved.


  2. I didn’t find LMS “dark” but my favorite thing about it was that Redondo Beach was filmed only with overcast skies. I wonder how many days they must’ve had to wait for clouds like that!

    Huh, maybe it WAS dark!


  3. Andrew,

    I didn’t mean to convey that it was “dark.” It is actually in the end quite uplifting and freeing. There is a sense of triumph that emerges, not despair. It really is worth seeing–I wrote my review immediately after watching it, and after re-reading it realized that I should have given myself a bit more space to digest the film. It’s quite good and quite complex, and I’m afraid I didn’t do it justice.


    Brilliant. Simply brilliant.


  4. Hey Matt,

    We’ve been talking a lot recently about the “everyone is messed up, and we need to just learn how to accept that about ourselves and each other” idea in film… not so much about how it’s a particularly good or bad conclusion as how it’s odd that what would be a terribly depressing ending in most dramas (see The Family Stone, which had pretty much the same conclusion) is somehow acceptable in a comedy.

    Most of the time when I see this conclusion in a film I feel physically ill at the willingness of people to abandon any hope of the existence of “good” in the world… somehow a comedy doesn’t hit me that same way.

    Very odd to me…


  5. Mikey,

    I appreciate the thoughts. Is it because in a comedy people embrace their “messed-upness,” while in dramas (and I’m afraid I haven’t seen the Family Stone) it is forced rather unwillingly down our throats? The optimism of Little Miss Sunshine seems to rest in the fact that the messed-upness is somehow okay, if it isn’t resisted. Resisting it or denying it, in fact, is what leads to most of the problems.

    Interesting. : )


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