Do you have a perfect family?
Around the holiday season, I hear from a number of people who complain about their families, thinking theirs is dysfunctional, imperfect, or just plain messed up.
What I have yet to find, though, is this so-called idyllic family that is completely functional, flawlessly perfect, and neatly put together.
Little Miss Sunshine, then, is a movie for the rest of us.
This movie chronicles a New Mexico family on a road trip in their old, beat-up Volkswagen van to California for the “Little Miss Sunshine Pageant,” a children’s beauty contest in which the youngest daughter has been invited to participate.
The family consists of Richard (Greg Kinnear), a father who is overly enthusiastic about his own (but imaginary) success story; Sheryl (Toni Collette), a mother who loathes her husband for his imaginary money schemes; Dwayne (Paul Dano), the Nietzke-reading rebellious son who has taken a vow of silence because he hates his family; Olive (Abigail Breslin), the seven-year-old daughter who wants to compete in beauty pageants despite overeating and a bad fashion sense; Frank (Steve Carell), the self-professed “greatest Proust scholar” uncle who comes to live with the family after a suicide attempt due to a homosexual relationship gone bad; and Grandpa (Alan Arkin), a drug-addict whose foul language has gotten him kicked out of several nursing homes.
Despite these major imperfections, though, Little Miss Sunshine shows us that this is actually the perfect family.
Why? Because they love each other.
Even though Richard fails at his business plans, his wife Sheryl begrudgingly keeps forgiving him; even though Dwayne wants to abandon his family on the side of the road on their journey, he knows that doing so will cause his sister to miss her beauty pageant and changes his mind for her sake; and when Olive is nearly embarrassed in the pageant, the whole team comes to her rescue despite being thrown out of California for doing so (giving away why would ruin the fun of the final scene of the movie, so I won’t).
The world defines “perfection” as having things all figured out. The film shows plenty of supposedly “perfect” families at the beauty pageant… daughters with “perfect” skin, mothers with “perfect” fashion, and families who act “perfectly” genteel around everyone else (they probably live in white-picket fenced houses and have 2.5 kids, too).
On the other hand, God defines “perfection” as having perfect love for one another. The imperfect crew of Little Miss Sunshine is an example of God’s kind of perfect family.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul challenges the families of that early Christian community, “Be imitators of God as beloved children, and live in love with one another, just as Christ loved and sacrificed himself for us… Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ… Husbands, love and serve your wife as yourself. Wives, love and respect your husbands… Children, love and obey your parents.” (Eph. 5:1, 21, 33, 6:1). The perfect family, according to Paul, is one that exists for love and service to each other.
Through the wisdom of the Scripture, Paul continues to challenge the families of today. In other words, we don’t have to have everything figured out to be perfect (heck, we don’t even have to like each other). But we are challenged to look out for each other, to comfort each other, and to serve and sacrifice for each other, putting others before ourselves. That, as Paul says, makes us “imitators of Christ” (Eph. 5:1).
I believe God would be proud of the family from this fun movie. Even though their supposed and wacky “imperfections” get them exiled from the state of California, I am sure they would be welcome in the state of heaven.
Do you have a perfect family? You might initially say, “no.” But if you love your family and they love you, if you would do anything for your parents, your children, and even your strangest uncle or that obnoxious cousin, then I think you should say, “yes.”
Why? Because that’s probably what God would say, too.