Saturday, January 20, 2007

Little Minds Miss Sunshine

A week or so ago I finally watched Little Miss Sunshine. I typically make it a point to read family movie reviews on the Internet before watching movies that are R rated to see if there are any sex scenes or nudity. Yeah, this may seem prudish or immature, but I am subject to being “immature” (if that’s what you call a weak spot for pornography), and for me, seeing a scene that is sexually explicit is akin to an alcoholic taking just one gulp of beer. I just better not do it. Maybe you think it’s silly, but it’s true.

Anyway, I was reading Focus on the Family’s movie review of LMS on its website, Plugged In, and
it enumerated all the morally-suspect aspects of the film. It almost swayed me not to watch it, honestly, because the reviewer said that the final dance scene went too far.

It did sound bad…until I actually saw the movie. And in context, the scene was not bad at all. First of all: it was social commentary. In the reviewer’s attempts to count every speck of sin in the movie, he missed the bigger picture. The boy, while on the pier says, “F*** beauty contests,” and rightfully so-was the reviewer watching the other part of the beauty pageant, in which little girls are judged by mere externals? Would he rather these little girls be exploited so long as they play by the rules? Is a striptease any worse than the objectification that was happening on the stage? And as my wife pointed out-the majority of the girls on that stage will one day be doing stripteases because that’s the logical end of the beauty pageant scene for many of the contestants who fail. We’re not talking about a noble goal here: to be the best looking. Olive’s performance was not necessarily an endorsement of lewd sexual behavior, but an indictment on beauty pageants-showing them for what they really are: paper thin morality that covers a hypocritical obsession with externals.

So, in the reviewer’s rush to judgment, he became an endorser of the beauty pageant. I think conservative Christians tend in this direction way too often-going through the world with a kind of naïve shortsightedness that blinds them to the evils that look good on the surface, when if they’d look a bit closer, they’d see that sin is festering there worse than in the seemingly evil areas, where, I might add, redemption has the tendency to shine through.

Christians tend to become Pharisees by requiring movies to have a clean outside, but a less than admirable inside. Hangman’s Curse was a Christian film that was released some time ago. I don’t think there was one cuss word in the whole movie, and there were some positive things about it, but underlying its clean exterior, it was a crappy movie, filled with clichés, unrealistic characters, and a scene that I would classify as downright ungodly. The football coach is about as one-dimensional a villain as has ever been written. He doesn’t care at all about the poor kids who’ve been beat-up and victimized because he’s an evolutionist. “Survival of the fittest,” he drones. So, the writer punishes him by killing the coach with an army of oversized tarantulas. This is the type of trick bad screenwriters resort to: killing people off who represent ideologies you disagree with. But conservative Christians like these type of movies. So there’s no cussing, but guess what? Not only is it not entertaining, but there is nothing redemptive or instructive in the entire film. The film is an exercise in the art of patting oneself on the back. Does God admire this?

As far as Little Miss Sunshine goes, there is plenty of redemption. A family filled with hateful, self-righteous and vindictive people, repent, unite and embrace one another in the most humiliating way: dancing with their most innocent member before a jeering crowd. That was love, that was selflessness, and humility depicted in a way that the right wing I guess is too blind to see.

If you want repentance you can’t show someone getting on his or her knees and saying the sinner’s prayer. It won’t translate on film. It doesn’t work. Repentance that works in film is Matt Dillon’s character risking his life to save the woman he molested in Crash, not Kirk Cameron’s sitting in a stall and saying the sinner’s prayer in Left Behind. We’re talking about stories here, and stories work best when the person doesn’t jump out and say-“You need to accept Jesus as your Lord and savior.” Jesus didn’t do that when he told parables so why do we? There is an appropriate time for preaching and it’s guess when-while you’re preaching! Save the sinner’s prayer for a sermon.

Good art isn’t always made from all the pretty and nice things in the world. Often, especially on this fallen planet, you have to show the mire in order to get to the redemption. You can’t have the resurrection without the Cross, and you’re rarely going to get good art if you skim the surface and retreat from the dark spaces. Let’s not be small-minded people who can’t see the sunshine for all the specks.


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