You do not get more dysfunctional than this. Sheryl Hoover (Toni Collette) is an overworked mother of two and her brother Frank (Steve Carell) is a homosexual Proust scholar, temporarily living at home with the family after having attempted suicide in the wake of a failed relationship. Sheryl’s husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a Type A personality striving to help support the family as a motivational speaker and life coach while Dwayne (Paul Dano), Sheryl’s son from a previous marriage, is a Nietzsche-reading teenager who has taken a vow of silence until he can accomplish his dreams of becoming a test pilot. Richard’s father, Edwin (Alan Arkin) is also now living with them after recently being evicted from a retirement home for snorting heroin.
And then there is young Olive (Abigail Breslin) – who may or may not be the only normal one amongst them.
Seven year old Olive is a cheerful optimistic little girl who learns that she has qualified for the “Little Miss Sunshine” beauty pageant being held in Redondo Beach, California in two days time. Unfortunately, such short notice makes it impossible to plan anything and a particular tightness of money means that the whole family is forced to embark on this mission as a whole in their old yellow Volkswagen Kombi. And no one gets left behind.
Of course when you have a family as dysfunctional as this, all forced together in a small space, under a lot of time pressure and with a vehicle that seems intent on breaking down as much as it can, things are bound to get interesting – which is probably the best way to describe what happens next. Still, all that matters in the end is getting Olive to the pageant in time!
Little Miss Sunshine is an Academy Award-winning comedy-drama film released in 2006 and marks the film directional debut of the husband-wife team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, better known for their work in the music video industry. The film was produced by Big Beach Films on a budget of US$8 million and stars Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin.
The first thing that makes you sit up and take notice of this movie is the quality of writing. As are many of the new movies being produced these days, the story and acting has a very slice-of-life feel to it, and more importantly a slice-of-REAL-life feeling attached to it. The lines, the plot, everything seems to fall so nicely as if it was just a normal day in anyone’s life which makes it remarkable considering the exaggeration of the dysfunctional family situation. The story has a very down to earth feeling attached to it which continues throughout the movie despite all the weird and wonderful situations that do occur and much of this could actually be thanks to the wonderful anchor of normality role that the naïve little Olive provides.
You’ll note that by the end of the movie very little if any of the peoples’ problems and personal demons gets resolved and yet in spite of this, the ending will have you smiling from head to toe and the good feeling that you had throughout the duration of this movie will continue to sit in and warm your gut. The movie is understated and so brilliantly written and acted that there is nothing whatsoever to nitpick upon and because of the emotional connection it makes with you and the fact that you can relate to it all so well (even if that seems impossible considering the movie’s happenings), makes this one of the better if not best feel good movies that you will ever see.
Of course, a lot of this has to do with the quality of acting on board, and boy does Little Miss Sunshine not disappoint. First up is the brilliant young Abigail Breslin who plays the part of Olive and who simply sparkles on screen, capturing everyone’s heart with her naivety and wide smile. Steve Carell puts in a flawless performance as what we have come to expect from him and it is nice to see such an accomplished funnyman put in such a great deadpan and serious dramatic performance. Likewise Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette put in fantastic performances as the hyper positive dad and stressed out mom while Alan Arkin puts in a hilarious act of the rebel grandpa who just won’t quit and is as un-PC as they come. Heck even Paul Dano puts in a star performance as the awkward teenager – especially considering that he doesn’t get to say a single word throughout most of the movie!
On the cinematographic front, nothing too special is ever attempted or achieved with the video camera but Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris prove themselves more than capable being behind the camera, directing the action and sequences with a steady and established hand, despite this being their directorial debut… at making a movie. As music video directors they have apparently been in the industry forever – it is just that they aren’t known all that well yet.
The delightful soundtrack and score is almost entirely the work of Denver-based band DeVotchKa which is a four piece multi-instrumental and vocal ensemble that fuses Romani, Greek, Slavic, Bolero and Mariachi music with American punk and folk roots. This wide variety of influences lends to a very easy-listening sound which fits the tone of Little Miss Sunshine like a glove and helps set the tone throughout the movie.
Overall, Little Miss Sunshine is simply one of those joyous, precious little gems that you find hidden amongst all those hundreds of movies that are produced every year and is one of those feel good, slice of life movies that you should watch and make everyone around you watch. It doesn’t tell a neatly packaged story, it doesn’t have a tidy and happy ending – instead, it is simply the story of a journey that a dysfunctional family finds itself going on and how the rollercoaster that is life throws everything it can at them on this one particular trip that may or may not have a lasting impact upon them as a group of individuals and more importantly as a FAMILY.
Simply put, this is a movie that MUST be watched.