Thursday, August 03, 2006

Little Miss Crass and Vulgar

Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong century. I don't tend to think that things that lots of other people today laugh at are funny.

A case in point is the indie movie now in theatrical release called
Little Miss Sunshine. I just listened to fuzzy Gene Shalit give it a rave on Today as being an inspiring, delightful family romp (or words to that effect). This film was all the rage at Sundance this year. I didn't see it there because word was it had gotten picked up for distribution, and so I knew I could catch it later in theaters. But it was the same at Sundance. Folks there kept saying it was a charming, quirky, inspiring comedy.


Films like Little Miss Sunshine are inspiring in the way that Roseanne Barr once said her TV show Roseanne was fascinating for people: "Our family is so bad, that it makes people feel better about the hell holes that their families are."

Let's see. Inspiring moments from Little Miss Sunshine...

- the film spends a lot of time setting up the father of the family, played well by Greg Kinnear, as a total assh*le. He spends the whole film talking about the difference between winners and losers, and seems oblivious that he himself is a loser. This fact is obvious to his teenage son who describes living in the house as hell, and has dropped out from any interaction with the hypocritical jerk parents who feed and clothe him.

I don't find ridicule inspiring. I don't find it really humorous. I think it subverts what comedy should be. Comedy should make us feel humble. Ridicule leaves the audience feeling superior.

I don't think post-modernism is an excuse to break the Fourth Commandment. But, I know, lighten up, right?

- This same shaggy-haired teenage son wears a T-shirt that proclaims "Jesus Was Wrong", and makes the film's most profound philosophical speech declaring, "Going to college? F*ck that. Getting a job? F*ck that. Making a living? F*ck that. F*ck it all. F*ck everything."

Somewhere out there, I suppose Nietsche was very inspired. The audience I was with roared in approval. I didn't think it was funny. The moment was played as a profound epiphany. But it isn't really profound, is it? Don't tell the audience. They were ready to elect the character to Congress for speaking the truth. What truth is that?

I find this to be predicable of GenX and the Millenials: They say things alternately banal and profound, but they don't know the difference.

- a grandfather (played by the talented Alan Arkin, who must be really, really desperate for work) who is a cocaine addict and a sex addict. He buys porn and makes the film's most vulgar speech to his grandson, chastising the fifteen year old for not getting lots of sex, and then exhorting him to "have sex with lots of women. Lots of them. Not just one. Gets lots of sex."

Again, the audience was in stitches. Especially when the grandfather noted that in the rest home he used to live in, he got "third degree burns on my Johnson" from all the sex. The more the old man spoke filth, the funnier it got for the audience. But, I didn't think it was funny. I thought it was gross and shameful.

- a seven year old who does a protracted burlesque dance as sexualized as possible. Now, I get that the scene was meant to be satiric commentary on the whole little girl beauty pageant world. I get that. I just hated watching a seven year old do a strip tease. Or, using the film school jargon for which I paid thirty grand, I found the method of filmic satire, more problematic than the social ill it was critiquing.

Again, however, the audience was falling off its seat laughing at this scene. How funny for them to get to watch a seven year old actress mimic an exotic dancer? I didn't think it was funny. I thought it was perverse. I don't care what the filmmaker was trying to do. He doesn't get to use a seven year old to make his frickin' statement!

I would say those three moments are the vulgar lowlights of the film. The rest of it involves a family in which the father is an ambitious jerk. The mother is an impotent whiner. And, OF COURSE, the only really compassionate, intelligent and caring member of the family is the gay uncle Frank, who is recovering from having slit his wrists. (And he is the sane one.)

I found during the movie that the audience was laughing at moments in which the family's shame was particularly exposed. The humor was to point at the people in the family and sneer, "What an assh*le!" or "What a hypocrite!"

I feel absolutely sure that a legion of critics - and certainly Christians! - will passionately defend this film. They will relish its "fresh satiric critique " of post-modernity. They will say things about how wonderful it was for the family to end the film accepting each other in a stirring moment of loyalty and love. They will say that this movie is clearly just not my kind of taste, and that engaging culture means that we shouldn't get stuck on little things like vulgarity, profanity, crassness and the exaltation of meaninglessness.

They will be absurd. Swallowing camels of human degradation and straining out gnats of "niceness".

Pass on Little Miss Sunshine. It won't make you a better person. It won't make you love your neighbors more. It will fill your spirit with cynicism and sneering. Pass. Pass. Pass.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. I share your revulsion that shame is now the fountain of comedy. I am 55 years old so I no longer have a relevant take on American culture but I applaud your conclusion that the film will not help me love my neighbor. Truth in art is supposed to leave me wiser hopefully and humbler for certain. Vulgarity does neither. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

you're a fucking ignoramus.

Anonymous said...

Who needs more entertainment of hoplessness? Answer: those who have little hope and are consumed by the suffering of their own lonely creature-self, - like the previous poster -Anon.

Thanks for the good review
keep up the good work in exposing demons through the medium of film.

Anonymous said...

what if Jesus really was wrong?

Anonymous said...

You have a dirty mind if you think that little girl was doing a striptease. She wasn't dancing like an exotic dancer at all. :P

Anonymous said...

You are held hostage by your beliefs. You view the movie through your subjective morality and label it crass and vulgar. Congratulations, with out people like you to sling labels and tell the rest of us how to think, crassness and vulgarity would not exist. I thought the movie was beautiful. Heartbreaking and hilarious. At one point I wasn't sure if I was crying because I was laughing so hard, or because it was so sad, but I was sure that it had accomplished something. I think perhaps the reviewer took in to the theater what she brought out.

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of what you said. When the grandfather was saying "have lots of sex" I wanted to stand up and yell, "so you'll get lots of sexually transmitted diseases, so you'll get lots of women pregnant and they'll have abortions or be single mothers, so you will always want sex with a lot of people and never be able to commit to one woman and commit adultry if you ever do marry".

I did, however, just love the scenes with the van, everyone running and jumping to get in. And I don't think the film was all about ridicule. I liked the characters, I wanted them to grow and do well. I just really didn't like that all of the "words of wisdom" were so utterly false. (Jesus was absolutely *RIGHT*.)

I also really liked the way the message of the film was anti-materialism- I think at the end it should have had the song, "All You Need is Love". It *was* about the importance of the bonds of family and love. And yes, it made me feel better that things aren't *that* bad for me- and if things are better for me than for that family and they are still able to pull through, that encourages me.

I had a lot of problems with the movie, but really it was a mixed bag. Sometimes it is more disturbing to get a bad message in a good enjoyable movie which also has a good message than it is to get it in a movie that is bad through and through.

Anonymous said...

I think you're wrong. I don't believe in God but that isn't the reason for my discord.
Perhaps, the grandfather is vulgar and ordinary, but, is just a (real/ possible) humorous character. He lives with the thought of a young person. It is opposed to which it would have to be. I believe that you find him so vulgar and outside site by your religion that it prevents you to see what really it is or you see beyond which there is. On the other hand, I don't understand why pregnancies and abortions are mixed in that issue. For the Christian moral, sex is taboo and reserved for the marriage but there is people who choose another way to live her sexuality and it's respectable and, coverall, it is not an attack to your moral: it is them right.
Finally, I believe that you did not understand final striptease. It does not look for sexuality or sensuality in the girl: she demonstrates that she's different from the rest and that she does not follow the conventions that the other children do. I understand that to teach undress- to a girl it would be perverse but, isn't it to educate them to be pretty, good cooks...? Is not bad to teach them to be ' perfect women' according to the roll that the society has given them? That streptease is not more than a critic to the beauty and talent aids, a critic to "which would have to be".