I made Little Miss Sunshine to win a bet. I’d tell you the details of the bet, but they are simply too depressing. Let’s just say it’s a bet I would have been ecstatic to lose.
American audiences have room in their heart for one independent film a year. They especially like it when it’s a quirky comedy filled to the brim with recognizable actors. A budget of over forty million bucks is also required so it’s not too grainy-looking. Black and White is a huge no-no. They hate that shit.
If you really want to improve your chances of having a film that’s discussed in hair salons and community college campuses alike, make sure the movie features depressed characters (depressed is not the same as depressing). Suicide is a little too much, but attempted suicide is like a Best Screenplay Academy Award magnet. Your characters should cut wrists until the cows come home. Pills are good too, but wrist cutting is best because a little bit of blood helps sell the “seriousness”.
In real life, people have all kinds of quirks that set them apart from each other. For instance, my grandma always used to go around secretly smelling people’s shoes. She also used to drink spaghetti sauce. She refused to respect Daylight Savings Time. Stupid stuff like that. In indie comedies, each character should have one, but no more than one, of these little quirks.
Little Miss Sunshine is about a quirky little family. The dad’s quirk is that his guide on how to succeed is a failure. The mom’s quirk is that she secretly smokes cigarettes. The son’s quirk is that he wants to fly planes but can’t because he’s retarded. The daughter’s quirk is that she wants to be in a beauty contest even though she’s a nerdy troll-looking bag of ugly. The grandpa’s quirk is that he’s a heroin addict. And the uncle’s quirk is that he hates being alive. They assemble into The Quirkmobile, an old Volkswagen Van that has to be push-started, which leads to a quirky running gag I resorted to whenever the film was running low on quirk juice. There is a Star Trek character named Quark and he was only one vowel away from appearing in this film as God.
When Little Miss Sunshine came out people called my script original. HA! The dad is a rip off of Sideways because he’s awaiting word on whether or not his project is going to live or die and it dies. The mom who doesn’t want people to know she smokes is a Royal Tenenbaums rip off. The uncle, who tries to cut his wrists and shows how serious his depression is by growing a beard is also a Tenenbaums rip off. The grandpa is a National Lampoon’s Vacation rip off because he dies and the family’s mission supersedes any attempt to treat his dead body with respect. The boy is a rip off of Connor Oberst (they both sound the same when they scream). And the girl is a rip off of every big glasses wearing little girl in any movie ever because she dreams big and has a heart that won’t quit and the world gives her a pass out of sheer pity. The family itself is a rip off of Married With Children because they all hate each other but will form like The Monkeeys when threatened.
It’s all about the pesky little girl. She wants to enter a contest she has no right entering, and because they family is so fucked up and worthless, they are totally capable of quitting their jobs and driving across the country just so she can lose to her face. On the way, the most retarded crap that ever happened in a movie happens twice. By the time they get to the contest, they’ve all learned valuable lessons and love each other. Except for the dead grandpa. The only thing he learns is that thirty-five years of screaming obscenities at his son was apparently NOT FUCKING ENOUGH because the little bastard still doesn’t love him. You have to wonder what this character thinks as he watches the rest of the film from heaven. Everyone gets along so well after he dies. It’s like he secreted “hate WD-40,” which constantly did battle with the daughter’s “love glue,” and now that he’s out of the picture the love glue can finally hold. Man! Even in heaven the truth stings a little. He asks God for some heroin, but God just shrugs, “All we have up here is aspirin.”
When they get to the contest, the family sees all these little future whores running around and worry that the daughter is too ugly to ever be future whore material. She goes up anyway and proves them all wrong by stripping her little ass off. After the judges are done barfing she’s disqualified and booted out of California. The family cannot believe their ears. “Are you judges crazy?! Those moves were sexy as shit!” They are promptly booted out of California too.
The little girl is so upset that she grows a beard. The uncle has special insight into what this means, so he takes her aside and whispers into her ear, “Honey, don’t make the same mistake I did. Cut along the vein, not across.” He then zips his lips, winks at her, and walks away, finally understanding what it means to be an uncle. Meanwhile, the dad figures out how to solve his son’s problem by buying him a remote control airplane. The son is so happy, he goes from retarded to emo asshole in just five seconds. The mom announces that since they’ve all learned to love each other again, she’s gotten pregnant. They all scratch their heads trying to figure out who the father is.
Then, one by one, they all starve to death because they don’t have jobs. First they eat the girl, then the emo kid, then the uncle. The mom then eats the dad. Finally alone, she pulls out her pack of cigarettes but guess what. She decides to quit smoking and throws them away. It’s a hilarious piece of quirk.
A really rich and depressed Bill Murray finds their bodies. This illustration of life’s frailty has such an impact on him that he goes off and tries to find his lost youth again. Good luck!