Little Miss Sunshine — A Golden Fleece
Went to the movies last weekend. I really have not been seeing enough. I used to regularly have “Movie Day” when I would buy four tickets at the cineplex and see four movies in an afternoon — even if I didn’t stay for the whole performance, I had an idea of what each was about.
No longer. And dang! I miss it. You would be appalled at the movies I have not seen this summer. But I am catching up.
When you see a good one, you know it. And Little Miss Sunshine did it for me.
Why? Because in addition to being a type of movie we know, it hits all the beats in the BS2!
Little Miss Sunshine is a Golden Fleece, so defined as “a team that goes on the road to achieve a prize — that turns out not to be what they expect.” It comes from the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. Jason sets out to be king, but on the road with his team, including Hercules (the Vin Diesel of his era), he finds much more. Movies like this include Saving Private Ryan; Planes, Trains and Automobiles; and even sports sagas like Dodgeball and heist movies like Ocean’s Eleven.
LMS is that. And though I have already written this chapter in my forthcoming book, Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies, I am tempted to add it in. I have even gotten an email from one writer who has done the beats for this movie, and they were right on!
So check it out and see if you agree. And since we are coming up to the end of summer and Labor Day, get ready with your picks for favorite movie of the summer. So far, I have one!
- Blake Snyder
The classic Golden Fleece rule is: the prize is never what the team sets out to achieve, think Bad News Bears and Saving Private Ryan. Even Ocean’s Eleven, turns out in that one, the real prize is Julia Roberts for George Clooney not the gold. The prize changes along the way because the participants change. Great breakdown, Meehna, thanks! And one thing I might add to your Act Three analysis is the idea of “synthesis” by joining the little girl onstage in her moment of need, the family takes what they were in Act One, adds to that what they learned about themselves in Act Two, and changes their world by creating a “third” way=synthesis. Classic example of this!
i liked little miss sunshine.
it was the best!
would the movie The Chumscrubber be consdered a golden fleece?
Hello– Just wanted to say how great I think “Save the Cat Goes to the Movies” is. I’m in my last semester of an MFA program in screenwriting and your cheat sheet singlehandedly cleared up major problems I had with structure. So, thanks! (And I agree – Little Miss was the best. I was thrilled to see Michael Arndt win for original screenplay two years ago.) Cheers!
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Little Miss Sunshine BS2
Any comments or suggestions are welcome.
Title: Little Miss Sunshine
Genre: Golden Fleece Movie
1. Opening image: Little Miss practices her “surprise” and â€œjoyâ€ at winning a beauty contest, mimicking a contest on TV.
2. Theme Stated: Is achieving our goals (i.e. winning) the only way to be successful in life?
3. The setup: Greg Kinnear, a lifecoach who is himself a loser, stresses about his book deal with his fed-up wife, Toni Colette; their angsty teenage son has taken a vow of silence until he gets into Air Force Flight School; Grandpa Alan Arkin, Greg’s father, a dirty heroine snorting lech, habitates with family b/c he got thrown out of his retirement home; Steve Carell, Toni’s suicidal bro who is an authority on Proust, convalesces with the family to keep him from offing himself.
4. Catalyst: Daughter gets invite to participate in Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest in California, winning her place as a result of the original candidate having to default.
5. Debate: Can the family go? Grandpa’s a crotchety, swearing wildcard; bro refuses to speak; and Uncle, is well, suffering from his gay lover running off with his rival — and to top it off they’ve got no money and a VW van so ancient it makes Grandpa look virile and alive.
6. Daughter has a chance to win! It’s Daddy’s philosophy, so it’s off to California to be winners (and prove Daddyâ€™s 7 step theory) with the whole family in tow.
7. B Story: Greg obsessively tries to reach his agent to find out about his impending book deal. Heâ€™s told his wife itâ€™s a â€œdone dealâ€ and it better be since theyâ€™re barely scraping by on her salary and a bill away from bankruptcy.
8. Fun & Games: Can’t we all get along? Squabbles in the van; the van breaks down; it can only get started by the whole family pushing it to go fast enough to maintain velocity in 3rd gear; jilted Uncle runs into his former lover and his Proustian rival, who stole his boyfriend; grandpa coaches daughter for her talent event; Greg stalks agent, driving to find him in a nearby city on a moped, and finds out his “done deal” book deal is, well, done, over, kaput.
9. Grandpa croaks from an overdose of heroin in his sleep in his hotel room. Bossy bereavement director insists the family can’t leave the body until the next day; looks like daughter won’t be able to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine contest b/c they won’t get there in time if they drive back to New Mexico for funeral arrangements.
10. Bad Guys Close In: Family regroups and steals grandpa’s body from the morgue and stow him in the trunk. (They’ll deal with him in California.) The mute son realizes his dream of attending flight school is crushed by his color blindness and he breaks his vow of silence of over a year with screaming obscenities; a cop pulls over the van because itâ€™s gone on an uncontrollable honking jag; and if this wasnâ€™t bad enough, the hotel is hard to find and the damn van can’t slow down or it will stall. Whoops, missed another exit. There goes another parking lot arm!
11. All is Lost: The family arrives but they’re 20 minutes late for registration. Haughty beauty pageant representative won’t bend the rules. If they’re late for reg, they’re out. She’s already shut down the computer.
12. Dark Night of the Soul: Greg, in uncharacteristic manner (and clearly not that of a winner! who subscribes to his 7 step program) , gets down on his knees and begs rep to let his child enter the contest. She won’t budge.
13. Break into 3: A cynical and jaded employee of the event, who is quitting anyway and thinks the whole thing’s a farce, offers to register them. After all, itâ€™s only 20 minutes.
14. Finale: The pageant: Overly stylized and manufactured — it makes Barbie look natural. Unrefined, pudgy, and down-to-earth daughter can’t compete in this phony world. Family wants to save her from humiliation, embarrassment and utter defeat by stopping her from the talent portion of the contest. Mom leaves it to daughter to decide. She’s come this far and decides to go on. And boy what a number — a striptease with stripper moves choreographed by dear, lascivious (and deceased) grandpa himself â€“ and he would be so proud! It’s a disgrace, embarrassing, and a complete shocker to the judges and crowd. Let’s get her offstage, cries the pageant director. But no, Greg is going to save his daughter from hurt feelings and buy into her performance, checking his ego and pride backstage. He goes onstage and joins
in the wild performance, followed by the entire family. They’re having a blast together.
Family arrested and let go, provided they never, ever enter a beauty pageant in California again. Greg assures the officer the family can live with that.
15. Final image: Family drives off together in their barely functioning van, laughing and unified. They have won because they have each other in the face of triumph or defeat.