Little Miss Sunshine

2007-02-27 11:00

A family of misfits treks from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, California to fulfil the dream of 7-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) to appear in the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant. An overworked mother of two (Toni Collette), an aggressively cheerful motivational speaker (Greg Kinnear), a teenager who’s taken a vow of silence (Paul Dano), a drug-using grandfather (Alan Arkin) and a suicidal gay brother-in-law (Steve Carell) pull together in a broken down yellow VW bus to pursue the dreams of a wannabe beauty queen. The journey sees the family going through personal upheavals and nursing wounded egos and broken dreams.


Okay, so everyone thinks their family is abnormal and just about every TV sitcom uses the dysfunctional family storyline at some point. Overdone, right? Hollywood is known for its formula driven shows and cheap humour. On paper, Little Miss Sunshine seems to fall in with the rest, but on screen it exceeds and excels as a brilliantly original comedy drama.

A small measure of its brilliance is the standing ovation it received at the notoriously picky Sundance Film Festival. The storyline is simple, the dialogue is unpretentious and the characters are unassuming and flawed. Little Miss Sunshine has that elusive grand quality lacking in mainstream movies, at times it seems more real than the brazen-beauty stuffed reality shows we are bombarded with daily.

This movie is exceptionally well cast and the actors stay true to the characters. The dialogue feels more like improvising than scripted performances. Married directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have captured family dynamic in its most sincere, authentic form, making the Hoover family unique and convincing yet oddly recognizable.

Abigail Breslin’s blue eyes stare at you from behind her big plastic spectacles and it is hard to believe she is just a 10-year-old actress. Her portrayal of Olive, a happy and sweet 7-year-old girl, is like a refreshing breeze of clean air after a long stay in a dark stale room. Olive goes about her day oblivious to her family’s troubles, and unwittingly becomes the anchor pulling them together.

Steve Carell steps up to a semi-dramatic role as Frank, a Proust scholar and professor with a broken heart. The character is dark, moody and in the beginning, just an outsider to the messiness of the Hoover family. The perpetually negative Frank is holed up with the Hoovers and the annoyingly positive Richard after a failed suicide attempt.

Greg Kinnear manages to take what would ordinarily be a loathed character, and make you want to reach out and hug him for being so incredibly dense and unsuccessful. He leaves his wife as sole breadwinner while ineffectively trying to land a book deal with his 9-step “Refuse To Lose” program, and yet we still end up liking him.

Toni Collette is the chain-smoking, overworked mother trying to hold the family together while maintaining her sanity. Her greatness is knowing when to take a back seat and let the story evolve, a character that could easily have gone garish was subdued by Collette’s ability to say a lot without saying anything.

A character that really wasn’t saying anything was Dwayne (Paul Dano), having taken a vow of silence he users a notepad to communicate and delivers the most laughs by simply lifting his head. Dwayne, together with grandpa (Alan Arkin), are hardly the most obviously funny characters, but somehow in this setting it works.

Little Miss Sunshine explores the intricacies of family life in modern America. It touches on serious subjects like weight and diets, child beauty pageants, drugs, homosexuality, and a goal-driven society, while still remaining watchable and entertaining. The familiarity of the characters and deadpan humour of the storyline will have you laughing long after the last credit rolled off the screen.

- Ashlin Simpson
Little Miss Sunshine is a fresh, funny and unassuming exploration of America's obsessive, win-at-all-costs culture.

Dinah 2006/10/06 8:15 AM
Ms. It is a little comedy you will really want to watch when you feel stressed to ease your emotions and brain. It feels like is more than just a comedy movie its a healing on its own way
Maria Mayhew 2006/10/06 9:40 AM
Little Miss Sunshine This seem to be an excelent movie, there need to be more moview like this one to assist with stress releive. Thanks for the excelent review
dustin 2007/01/03 5:37 AM
can't wait to watch sounds great!
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