Saturday, January 27, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine: Culture Clash in the Movies

At first glance, you might not think of Little Miss Sunshine as a culture clash film. It's about a white family of Americans, after all. But the story is rich and complex in its exploration of the family dynamics and there are several culture clashes at work. You have the gay male vs. straight male clash between Greg Kinnear's Richard, Alan Arkin's Grandpa and Steve Carrell's Frank, the homosexual brother-in-law. There's also the teenager vs. adult conflict between Paul Dano's Dwayne and Kinnear's Richard. You also have a clash between Richard's belief in winners vs. losers, and his family's clear awareness of their own imperfections, which seem all the more blaring to them every time he discusses winners. You have the Grandpa's exhibitionist/totally open attitude clashing with Kinnear's and other's more reserved attitudes.

All of these various cultures intersect and interact in rich ways which lead to great transformations for each of the characters, and that is the substance of the story as it reveals itself to us over the course of 102 minutes. It take surprising turns and the characters make surprising choices, and once you see it, you have no trouble at all figuring out why it's so highly acclaimed as one of the best films made all year. So often we think of culture clashes solely in the context of interrelations between people from one country and another. But there are cultures within those countries themselves. And that is what Little Miss Sunshine reveals and explores so richly.

And it does so without judgment. We might make judgements ourselves, but not the movie. All are presented in their various views in well rounded ways. All have their own motivations. And all are sincere. They are all respected for who they are, even as they come into conflict with one another. But in the end, they also come to mutually respect and learn from each others' differences at the same time. And we learn with them, because there's something we can relate to in each of these characters. That is what makes the film so rich and rewarding a viewing experience. It is a rare film, indeed. Not to be missed.

I personally run into my own culture clashes daily. From the superficial boss who makes snap judgments about those who work with him and sticks to the first impression no matter what to the stepford admin assistant who somehow thinks if you are not as "dedicated" or "excited" as her, you are not a valuable employee. People use their cultures to make assumptions and interpretations about people every day. Any difference, no matter how slight, can be used to justify writing someone off or judging them inferior in some way. To me, all of that is ridiculously arrogant and self-indulgent. So often the people you are judging, judge you right back in ways you couldn't possibly imagine, because you are too busy feeling perfect or superior. Don't worry. They are doing the same.

I learn more and more through my corss cultural adventures not to make such silly, ignorant assumptions about others. And Little Miss Sunshine reminded me especially not to do it when it comes to my own family, or even closest friends. Biblically, of course, I'm reminded that we are all unique parts of a larger Body, and God fully intended for it to be this way. He made us all uniquely in His image, and so we have no place judging others or placing ourself as superior to anyone else. It would be a better world if more people lived with this in mind, I think. But all I can do is do my part not to contribute to that negativity, to keep this in mind myself. Little Miss Sunshine is a healthy reminder. It will be one for you, too, if you allow it.

For what it's worth...

No comments: