Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Written by Michael Arndt
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin, and Steve Carrell
Length: 1 hour and 41 minutes
Genre: Comedy, drama
MPAA Rating: R
Description from IMDB:
“A family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their VW bus.”
The Hoovers consist of a fairly normal family with its own quirks. Richard (Greg Kinnear) and Sheryl (Toni Collette) Hoover live with their children, Dwayne (Paul Dano) from Sheryl’s first marriage, and Olive (Abigail Breslin). Richard’s father (Alan Arkin) also lives with them after getting kicked out of his retirement home. The film begins when Frank (Steve Carrell), Sheryl’s brother, comes to stay with them after a suicide attempt and can’t stay in the hospital. All of these personalities become cramped in an old, VW van when Olive is told she can compete in the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant. The only problem is the pageant is in two days and the family must cross hundreds of miles, growing as people along the way, in order to make this little girl’s dream come true.
The appeal of Little Miss Sunshine (2006) comes entirely from the character-driven story. Olive is a young and caring little girl who has big dreams of becoming the winner of a beauty pageant. She watches, re-watches, and then reenacts the reactions of a Miss America winner in order to imagine herself doing the same. She devises a routine with the help of her belligerent, foul-mouthed grandfather who snorts heroin in his spare time. Her older brother, Dwayne, wants to join the Air Force Academy and has taken a vow of silence during his training until he reaches that goal. Richard has created a nine-step program toward self-fulfillment that he believes he can sell as a book, and has put up a lot of his and his wife’s money in order to do so. Sheryl tries to keep her family together and is the heart of the film, like her daughter, which is shown when she takes her brother Frank in after his suicide attempt. Despite the heavy themes and issues that arise in the film, there are plenty of funny moments to break the tension.
From a difficult mode of transportation to the interactions between character, Little Miss Sunshine (2006) retains perfect comedic timing throughout. The dialogue and exchanges between the bickering family members are both humorous and genuine, evoking the actual arguments of real families over petty things. The situations in the film also create plenty of laughs with the family forgetting Olive at a gas station, then having to pick her up while the van is still rolling lest the engine die. The van creates many of these moments, especially once the horn goes on the fritz and its clownish beeps randomly interject the general peace of the road trip. The reactions to the terrifying world of child beauty pageants by the family members, Kinnear especially, are hilarious and relate to many viewers as the watch the strange spectacle. While the movie is filled with funny moments, they are tempered by low points for the characters that add depth and ease identification.
The characters in Little Miss Sunshine (2006) all undergo changes from the selfish people they are at the beginning of the film. They hit a low point and this either changes them for the better and they move on, or, in the case of the grandfather, they move on from this world after giving their contribution. Frank sees the ex-lover he lost to his work rival at a gas station in the wake of his suicide attempt, Richard and Sheryl aren’t able to get the book deal they were promised, and Dwayne learns that he is color-blind and will not be allowed to fly fighter jets. These setbacks all put the characters’ wants into perspective as they ban together to help Olive achieve her dream since she is still capable of reaching it. The van needing to be jump-started and pushed by all involved represents their initial apprehensiveness to give each other help, but they eventually fall in stride and are able to make it work.
I was able to revisit Little Miss Sunshine (2006) in a screenwriting course I took in college, and though I enjoyed the film initially, the class really showed the brilliance behind the writing. The situations that force this family into this odyssey of ordeals are all logical, being presented as such to build the argument and premise of the film. The acting in this movie makes the viewer really believe this is a family, and I think part of that goes to the fidelity to the script and the talent of the actors themselves. The pain is believable, the laughs relatable, and it all combines to tell a sweet tale about pulling together for a common goal rather than remaining in our own selfish bubbles; I think there is a lot to be said for a story like that.
Verdict: 5 Olives being Olives out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of irreverent humor, those who enjoy characters that grow in a movie, fans of road movies, sarcastic people, people who dislike child beauty pageants (understandable), and people over the age of 17.
Not recommended for: Those who dislike road movies, people with a fear of child beauty pageants (understandable), or people under the age of 17 unless accompanied by an adult.