Saturday, 3 March 2007

Little Miss Sunshine & Running with Scissors

My favourite movie reviewer is Frank Pittman who always does his reviews in sets of twos or threes. Last night, I just watched Running with Scissors and I thought it would make a good pairing with Little Miss Sunshine - two examples of one my favourite genres: quirky comedies about dysfunctional families. And they demonstrate a contrast of how 'humanization' sometimes works with me and sometimes doesn't (so that you can get some ammunition, Vic, to successfully figure out what's wrong with me on this score).

A few years ago I gave a sermon on "Celebrating Imperfection." Little Miss Sunshine is a movie that does a great job at the same idea. Early in the movie, it's hard to believe that you'll be rooting for this family by the end. By a lot of current standards, they're losers across the board. The biggest loser, of course, is the one who thinks his positivity is going to make him a winner. Somehow, by the end, all of their foibles (even the dad's) become part of the unique gifts they offer to make their road trip a success.

It seems to me there are a lot of mistakes they could easily have made that would have made this movie flop, but they manage to get the tone just right and it allows them to mix the absurd with the serious leaving you glad they included both. I assume that many people would feel, as I did, that the movie takes them on a journey of their own, partly through the way that the beginning draws out such a natural sense of judgment towards at least a few of the characters, and then heals you of your judgment. It seems to me that's exactly what they intended.

The opposite journey seems to happen in Running with Scissors. At first it's possible to have some sympathy for the characters, but then the film works hard at making you forget any positive feelings. It doesn't help that Running with Scissors is promoted with a well-made but deceptive trailer that highlights its comic potential while neglecting to give clues that it is actually a depressing tragedy. This movie is both darker and more absurd than Little Miss Sunshine. The comedy actually works some of the time, but the life of the humour comes from the false hope that the absurdity brought into the life of one kind of dysfunctional family from another kind of dysfunctional family might provide some kind of breakthrough. However, this is a movie about dead ends not breakthroughs.

As a result, it's an example of one of those movies where the attempt at humanization leaves me cold. If this is our common humanity, it simply makes me sad to be human. Where Little Miss Sunshine heals you of a judgmental spirit, Running with Scissors creates one.

As you said, Vic, the scene on the dock in Little Miss Sunshine is a classic, with its timely bit of wise advice, and it gives a great focal point before the grand finale. It is exactly the kind of wisdom absent in Running with Scissors.

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