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In my view, theme is about the emotional meaning of a story.
A story has to be about something and we typically call that its theme.
, a Sundance sensation (read: purchased by Fox Searchlight for lots of money) about an Albuquerque family of screw-ups and oddballs who hop in a dilapidated, bright yellow VW van to get youngest daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) to the titular pre-teen beauty contest in California.
Unlike George Lucas and the prequels, Abrams doesn’t feel the need to explain away every detail. Again, this is something the Holy Trilogy was built on (the Force is a mystical energy field, not some, well, whatever midichlorians do). Doesn’t matter how good your director is if your script sucks.
He’s the guy that did Little Miss Sunshine, a movie that balanced comedy with a lot of heart. He also did this little film called Toy Story 3 which you’ll probably recall as a sequel that effortlessly slipped into the established continuity and trumped all prior. This man can give a screenplay heart without it feeling shoehorned in and capture the voices of characters who aren’t his own.
“One of the things that was an impetus to write the script was I remember reading this interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger…
where he was talking to a group of high school students…
Caricatures all, these miserable men and women experience predictably scheduled blow-ups, breakdowns, and moments of healing, their farcical journey full of rusty contrivances made bearable (and intermittently amusing) chiefly thanks to sharp comedic performances by Arkin (full of piss and vinegar in a manipulatively discarded role) and Carell (turning moroseness into a weapon of deadpan humor).
More troubling is the movie’s condescending portrait of grotesque Americana, from an early family dinner scene in which the dining room’s cheap wood paneling, Mc Donald’s glassware, and bucket-of-chicken main course are presented for easy laughs at the characters’ expense, to the clan’s subsequent pit-stops at freeway gas stations, motels, and the beauty queen extravaganza where unnaturally precocious, sexualized girls strut and shimmy for superficial rewards.
A child beauty pageant is the ultimate in stupid meaningless competition.”And so armed with all that, Arndt went off and wrote one of the best character-based comedies in the last decade.
In my view, while Olive is the story’s central character in driving the plot — it’s her goal of appearing in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant that creates the spine of the plot — the Chief Protagonist is Richard (her father) with Secondary Protagonists Frank and Dwayne, each of whom is dealing with this issue: Winner, Loser.