The much buzzed about Little Miss Sunshine, with its numerous nominations and critical praise, is a movie that doesn’t really fit into any conventional mould. Its premise is about a little girl named Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) and her dysfunctional family trekking from New Mexico to California in a yellow Volkswagen van to make it to a beauty pageant in two days. And hijinks and hilarity ensues.
The family is comprised of idiosyncratic and somewhat out-there characters. Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette play Olive’s father and mother, Richard and Sheryl Hoover. He’s a high-strung father who’s trying to make it big in the business world with motivational program, which he is working hard to sell to a buyer. She is a mother that acts more like a mediator, trying to keep the family together and thwarting conflicts. Since her husband is obsessed with getting his motivational program marketed, she’s had to keep the family afloat — both financially and emotionally. And it obviously takes a toll on her. She’s also has a son from a previous marriage named Dwayne (Paul Dano). Dwayne is your typical, angst-ridden teenager who apparently hates everyone, including his family, and keeps to himself most of the time. Except, not quite so typical, as he’s taken a vow of silence and is a Nietzsche aficionado. His dream is to be a pilot for the Air Force one day. There’s Grandpa (Alan Arkin), father to Richard but plain old grandpa to the kids (well, more so, Olive). He’s delightfully inappropriate, which is the best way I can describe him. He likes the porn, he likes to talk about inappropriate things in inappropriate language, he likes snorting heroin, and he likes to live in the moment. Frank, played by Steve Carell, is a gay Proust scholar who fell in love with with one of his grad students. However, the young lover eventually leaves him for, of all people, his academic rival — the second highest regarded Proust scholar in the U.S. Distressed by his love life, the fact that he was fired from his job and his academic rival being awarded a genius grant in literature, he attempts suicide. Well, he wasn’t successful and so after he’s released from the hospital, he stays with his sister Sheryl and her family as he gets back on his feet (also, to watch over him to make sure he doesn’t attempt try #2). Lastly, there’s Little Miss Sunshine herself, Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin). She’s a precocious little seven year old who has found joy in beauty pageants ever since she was introduced to them by an aunt she was visiting.
After Olive gets a call about qualifying for the regional Little Miss Sunshine pageant, the family takes the old yellow VW van and sets off for Redondo Beach, California, where the pageant is held. Hijinks and hilarity ensues on the roadtrip, some of which is result of the ramshackle van they are traveling in. On the surface, the family seems like the typical dysfunctional family but beneath the surface, they are just a regular, loving family who happen to have their quirks. And that is what makes this movie entertaining and heartwarming. For example, in the scene where Dwayne’s dream of becoming a pilot is suddenly crushed when he realizes that he is colour-blind, the family bonds together to offer whatever support they can. As he’s screaming in frustration at his family, the first point in the movie we hear him speak, Olive runs out to comfort him by simply putting an arm around his shoulder. During the roadtrip there are several moments of discord and setback (a.k.a. “the plot twists”) but nonetheless, the family bond remained strong and united under the common goal of getting Olive to the pageant on time. As far as dark comedies go, this one still had its share of laughs. The scene in which Olive performs her talent, which is a rather risque dance to Rick James’ “Super Freak” taught to her by her Grandpa, is both aghast and hilarious.
Little Miss Sunshine is movie with an interesting premise that may seem a bit peculiar at first, but it works, largely in part due to the strong characters created. The actors chosen to portray these characters were right on the money. As a huge Steve Carell fan, I found his way of mixing the depressive attitude and dry wit one of the more entertaining parts of the movie. And let’s not forget the “star” of Little Miss Sunshine, Abigail Breslin, who does a great job playing the kind of dumpy yet adorable Olive. Wearing the fat suit she had to wear for the movie and donning a pair of round plastic glasses, she makes the character sweet and compelling in such a way that, in some scenes, you almost forget that she’s just seven. As far as child actors go, she gives a brilliant performance in that she doesn’t resort to hamming it up to muster up cutesy-ness. Her performance seems natural and meshes well with the other performances. All in all, the ending was great and it will surely leave you with a smile.