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Dark Humor in "Little Miss Sunshine"

Upon Little Miss Sunshine's release, critics immediately billed the film as a comedic triumph. A Newsweek review trumpeted that "there's been no more satisfying American comedy this year," while the San Francisco Chronicle averred that the film "dropped from celluloid heaven." Audiences agreed. The film won two Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor and received nominations for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress. Despite the brightly innocuous title, the movie contained a great deal of darkness. The success of the film represented a new level of recognition for the dark comedy, the conceptual cousin of the horror film. In this light, Little Miss Sunshine bears examination in the context of the genres of dark comedies and horror movies. The similarities between the two genres and the ways in which Little Miss Sunshine follows and deviates from their conventions bear examination.

Critic Wes D. Gehring comments that "black humor was once considered a form of 'sick comedy' on the fringe," but as standards have changed, "the genre has become more representative of the modern world." Horror movies have largely followed the same trend-violence and concepts once decried as sick have become normalized. Gehring cites the early examples of Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and Monsieur Verdoux (1947) as representative of the fringe era of dark comedy. Arsenic and Old Lace features two elderly spinsters who poison unmarried older men in what the pair perceives as mercy killings, while Monsieur Verdoux follows a man who marries wealthy widows and kills them for their wealth. Each of the storylines described above could have easily been adapted into a horror film.

Many film critics have commented on the pervasiveness of death in dark comedies; as Wes D. Gehring observes, dark comedy easily represents "the most macabre of film genres." He later observes that death is " the hea...

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