Wednesday, 31 January 2007

German Bus, American People

The recent indie film, nominated for a clutch of Oscars, Little Miss Sunshine, is the latest road-movie from an America that, from The Grapes of Wrath, to Easy Rider, on to Thelma & Louise, has forever pictured the bad-lands journey West ("to California") as both mythic and inherently doomed. Since The Day of the Locust, if not before, it's been de rigeur to note that people come to California to die, and this film is no different.

The family unit, united in tragedy, circles the (volks) wagons, and keeps out the Injuns, in this case, a majority of moral (or morally dubious) characters, from a perverted cop, to loud-mouth bereavement councillor to a cruel beauty pageant director. A late sublime moment ensues, when the failed Number One Proust Academic in America, lately suicidal, careens down a corridor, solely to reach the Little Miss Sunshine desk in time, his priorities realigned by the sense of the journey.

Like in all good quest narratives, the knights achieve their wisdom through their trials and tests as much as by what they locate at the end (of the rainbow, consider the empty promise of Oz). I am left with an ambiguous sense about the justness of the conclusion, which I won't reveal, except to say, it leaves an issue of sexual permissivity hanging in the air, that is most charitably resolved by saying, innocence cannot be corrupted by a tin man or cowardly lion, and perversity is, ultimately, in the eye of the beholder, not the dancer or the dance. This may surprise us all and beat The Departed for best film.
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