Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Complex Character or Just Another Straw Man?

In it is an old story that Hollywood has tried to distance itself from the black and white hat characters of the westerns. Characters now are supposed to be more nuanced and complex; neither good nor bad but human. The camera has attempted to penetrate the thin facade of suburbia uncovering such stories as American Beauty. I recently viewed Little Miss Sunshine (just so you know this post is full of "spoilers") and was, through most of the movie, pleased. A little girl in a middle-class home finds out at the last minute that she has a spot in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pagent. The family is complete with recently fired gay suicidal academic uncle, angst-ridden son who reads Nietszche and has taken a vow of silence, a perverted heart-of-gold grandpa, a bring-home-the-bacon mom, and aspiring motivational speaker dad who is trying to cut a book deal on how to be a winner. And that is the plot. Who are the winners and who are the losers. And what better backdrop than there last minute attempt to drive 1000 miles to a beauty pagent. The bulk of the movie is spent on the road where grandpa dies, the son finds out he can't pursue his dream job, the uncle meets his ex-boyfriend who ran off with another scholar, and the dad loses his book deal. All have lost. All are losers.
However, they do manage to make it the pagent in the nick of time. Olive's turn for the talent competition comes up. Olive has been working on her routine with grandpa and no one has seen it. However, after seeing the other contestants dad is feeling like her girl is outmatched and wants to convice her not to go on. Mom stops him and allows Olive to perform.
It turns out that Olives performance is a pre-pubecant strip-tease which is performed to Super Freak. The audience is offended and begins to leave. In act of triumphant solidarity the whole family comes on stage to dance with Olive for the remainder of the song.
It is all fine and good to critique society via "beauty pagent" imagery, however, sex is once again leveraged as the liberator of docile mass culture. In fact I believe sex is a good domain to critique but does an "innocent" six year old strip tease offer a redemptive image for dysfunctional families and lives? As I write this I am beginning to see that perhaps Olive and the rest of the family are significantly "complex". Through Olive's purity she translates grandpa's strip tease into a redemptive act liberating the family for the expectations of the beautiful culture, the winners. While I respect Olive's character I view the old Hollywood character of Sex as suspect. Sexual deviance remains the leading man for cultural change in Hollywood. Much of Hollywood remains convinced that sex is primal and does not reflect on how sex offers imagery for the deeper movements of holiness, the real complex character.

No comments: