Quirky Comedy. A family of dysfunctional misfits takes a road trip to bring their little daughter to a beauty pageant for children. This was a fascinating story to me with fascinating characters, and a touching theme about the value of family love and acceptance in the midst of imperfection. Alan Arkin as the 60s hippie grandfather who cusses too much, Greg Kinnear as the Success motivational teacher who is a loser, the brother who reads Nietzsche and hates everyone and takes a vow of silence. Steve Carrell as the gay professor of Proust who tried to commit suicide because of unrequited lust. Toni Collette as the mother and a newcomer as Olive, the little girl who appears to be the only sane one in the family.
What I liked about this film was it’s sense of reality, that none of us are perfect and that love and human connection can occur even within messed up families. More importantly, that perhaps the “functionality” of the “normal world” is maybe not so right or even desirable after all. When they all get to the pageant, it’s a circus of Jon Bene Ramses, strutting their little 6-9 year olds around like Miss America, looking way too adult for their age, and being coaxed to be a commodity of commercial success rather than just being little girls and enjoying life and family. If this is normal life, you can keep it. One of the themes is about how each of us is special and important, even with our quirky dysfunction or problems. At the pageant, Olive is about to be totally humiliated when she does her little dance because the family realizes that all the other girls have professional routines and they know Olive just doesn’t match up to them. So, when Olive starts to be rejected at her dance, the whole family joins her on stage dancing like fools to diffuse and even absorb her rejection. It’s really quite a moving moment of unity within this motley crew called family, and shows their concern for her more than the other parents who have culled their little girls to be things of entertainment.
What I did not like about it is that the dance that Olive had learned was from her grandfather, who was a dirty old man. So Olive does a strip dance. Okay, she has a sequined little outfit underneath, so it is not a pedophile thing, but the point is that it is a truly immoral thing and NOT a worthy thing to support in the little girl. This element sullied the moral of family support. We simply should not support such impropriety in little girls, it will destroy them if we do. Also, another scene tries to create a moment of family unity, when the father, who is obsessed with being a winner and not a loser, challenges Olive not to eat her ice cream because it makes people fat and fat people are losers, or more precisely, the Miss Americas that she idolizes do not eat ice cream, so if she wants to become a winner like them, then she shouldn’t. The other family members mock and deride the dad as insensitive and they all take a spoonful of ice cream to get her to take some as well. Later, the little girl asks a Miss America if she likes ice cream and she says, yes! The point here is that I think the filmmakers intended this to be a moral statement about the obsessive preoccupation with health as destructive on children’s psyches. But I have a completely different moral compass that says that the epidemic of obesity in children today – and it is an epidemic – is caused precisely by this politically correct rejection of guilt and elevation of the impulses. After all, it’s what all addicts do to each other, comfort each other in their problem. The father was actually right and was in the better interest of the child. She was already chubby, which indicated that she was already eating TOO MUCH CRAP (read: SUGAR). So, yes, commodification of women is wrong, but so is psychobabble about making children feel good and giving them whatever they want instead of teaching them discipline and giving them what they need.