Ensemble Casts and the Problems they create for the IC

Having watched Little Miss Sunshine and listened to the podcast now, I have a deeper understanding of why I dislike so many movies with ensemble casts.

[That isn’t to say that I disliked LMS, since it has a killer finale and a heartbreaking scene in the middle with the granddaughter and her grandfather, plus tons of other fun goings-on.]

First and foremost, so many characters get shortchanged. Take Dwayne for instance. We learn he wants to be a pilot. In one short scene, he learns he is colorblind and his dreams are dashed. His sister hugs him, he starts talking and on we go. That’s basically it. Steve Carrell’s Proust scholar has a similar one-and-done moment in the gas station.

Second, let’s talk about the IC.

I’m going to dip back into the OS for a bit here. The movie is OS>Psychology>Conceptualizing and the thing that leaps out the most for me is that everyone has their plan for how to deal with failure:
• Pops’ plan: do the most outrageous thing you can do at that moment. Young? Fuck a lot. Old? Snort Heroine.
• Dwayne’s plan: take an oath of silence until you get your way
• Mom’s plan: face the truth. Talk about the suicidal uncle and their lack of money
• Dad’s plan: 9 steps
• Frank’s plan: suicide

We know that by the end, the dad has adopted Pops’ plan—and this makes sense. They are most obviously the ends of the spectrum here, and this fits with Dramatica’s idea that the MC and the IC are the best and worst options to solve the inequity.

But, for me, that’s about it. Nothing really makes Pops stand out as the IC. Consoling his son is not markedly different from Frank consoling Dwayne on the pier about suffering. (I know that Olive takes up his attitude and really makes it happen at the end, and the hand-off is solid.)

By writing for an ensemble, I feel like the role of the IC got diluted too much, and as such, so did the RS.


It’s super short too. Another 30 minutes and you could have addressed all those things you brought up.

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I generally have this reaction to ensemble films. I suspect that spreading out moments that give each OS character a bit of life eats time and makes it harder to fit everything in.

LMS was just the film I was using as an example because I just watched it.

It could be that my real reaction is to movies like Crash that tend to be a bunch of short, intersecting tales. LMS isn’t really that, but perhaps it’s enough like that and too short to distinguish itself as a GAS, so it’s triggering the same reaction.

There’s also the film with the ensemble cast, “Sing!”. As Jim puts it here, the IC is “mostly absent” and the RS is “underdeveloped.” I expect that “spreading out moments that give each OS character a bit of life and [make] it harder to fit everything in” was a contributing factor.

All the same, if it is given enough space, I’m sure that a work with an ensemble cast could still allow for a complete storyform.

I bet we could find a good example in Shakespeare, with his 4-hour plays.

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