Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Abigail Breslin
It takes a truly talented writer to take stock character traits and create something engaging and original with it, but that’s exactly what Michael Arndt achieved with Little Miss Sunshine. It’s a tale that owes a lot of debt to the magic of Wes Anderson, the diverse mixture of nonconformist personalities bringing to mind the collection of pseudo-academic eccentrics of The Royal Tenenbaums and the life-changing quest narrative similar to that of The Life Aquatic. However, while Anderson’s whimsical tales almost always feel rooted in fantasy, Arndt’s tale feels honest & real and that’s what makes it so effective and memorable.
Heading up the Hoover family is father Richard and mother Sheryl who are at the end of their tether with financial woes and a family beginning to self-destruct; son Dwayne has committed himself to a vow of silence until he becomes a jet pilot, Richard’s father Edwin is spending his days hiding in the bathroom snorting heavy narcotics, and Sheryl’s brother Frank has just been released in to their care after trying to kill himself. When their daughter Olive wins an opportunity to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant Richard & Sheryl decide to travel, family in tow, across the states to make young Olive’s dream come true. As their road trip progresses, the Hoover family must each face their own demons as well as the appearance obsessed beauty pageant industry.
Using a group of characters in various stages of their lives, Little Miss Sunshine is a film identifiable to all age groups and this is helped by the universally fantastic performances. On the surface they seem stereotypical, but as their individual narratives develop you begin to see how each of the Hoover’s are multi-dimensional and struggling with the unexpected problems that life has dealt them. Standout praise must be given to Steve Carell, whose devastating portrayal of depression sticks with you long after the credits role. Meanwhile, Alan Arkin deserves special praise for his wonderful comedic touch that lifts the films spirit; his advice to grandson Dwayne, that he should be making the most of the opportunity to fornicate with younger women, being one of the films standout scenes.
The sense of realism that runs through Little Miss Sunshine is what makes the films final act so effective. The world of children’s beauty pageants is one rarely seen by many of us and while the actual pageant we see may be simulated, the children inhabiting it are real and the truth of it is terrifying. Without wanting to give too much away, the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant is the sort of vain and conceited contest that shows just how self-obsessed we can be, with the parents more interested in how their children make them look than how they look themselves.
But it’s enough to make a group of characters that you come to love realise what’s important… and it may even be enough for you to realize it as well.