Buy This Film
2006
Rated: PG-13 for adult language, and adult themes.
Genre: Comedy Drama
Directed By: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Running Time: 1:41
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 12/2/06
Special Features:
4 Alternate Endings with optional commentary by directors Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
"Till the End of Time" performed by DeVotchka from the soundtrack
Trailers

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

 


Richard: Okay… everybody just pretend to be normal, okay?

"I don't want to be a loser," Olive cries to her grandpa a day before the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. She's a young wide-eyed girl who just wants trophies and crowns, but she also wants re-assurance. Re-assurance that she's pretty, and re-assurance of a startling realization she's receiving as she gets older. In the tradition of greats like “Harold and Maude,” and “Harry and Tonto,” Dayton and Faris’ “Little Miss Sunshine” is a rather humanistic absurdist comedy that really never seeks to be too pretentious. Normally, films like this really seek to be more than a simple film about family.

But “Little Miss Sunshine” paints an awfully realistic family of failures, and rejects in the vein of the fantastic “Junebug,” all of whom can never seem to fulfill the goals they want. The only person who seems to want to be rid of it all is Frank who is a suicidal man heartbroken from being dumped by the man he loves, and Olive an optimistic little girl who finally has the chance that her entire family doesn’t. She has opportunity and discipline, and that eventually reflects on everyone else when she wins the local pageant and has the chance to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine contest.

And it doesn’t hurt that the cast is rather good. How can you look at the cast line up and not be interested? “Little Miss Sunshine” is about family, and unfulfilled desires, it’s about living up to standards you can’t fulfill, and realizing it. It’s why Frank is suicidal and is intent on trying again when he has the time. But, as all these films do, there is a road trip that stalls the usual family discourse and arguments.

 

“Little Miss Sunshine” is charming and never manipulative, its story is basically centered around a road trip, but the characters confined in the broken down bus they ride in are all pictures of failure. They all seem to be typical cliché characters, but Arndt breaks down the walls of stereotypes and really takes us by surprise by playing them as so much more.

Dwayne, played by the sublime Paul Dano, is a young man who hates his family and is taking a vow of silence until he gets into flight school, Grandpa Hoover is a foul-mouthed curmudgeon helping Olive with her dance routine; Alan Arkin gives a great performance, Greg Kinnear is a character you’ll love to hate as Richard, a failed inspirational speaker looking to invest and manipulates others into doing what he expects of them, and Steve Carrell plays Frank. Carrell is the stand out, which is surprising since I was originally skittish about one of my favorite comedic actors doing drama, but his performance is bittersweet and anchors an otherwise excellent cast. His character Frank is a sympathetic man who is cut from the same cloth as everyone else he’s shacked up with.

He’s suicidal and depressed and is basically forced to live with his in-laws, and tag along on their road trip. He never has a revelation, nor does he learn life is worth living, but he does learn that he has something to live for. What it is, we find out as the film progresses. Toni Collette pulls in her usual great performance as Sheryl, the well intentioned mom and unofficial leader of the brood who adheres to anything Olive wants. As for Abigail Breslin, she is adorable as the plain Olive who aspires to accomplish many goals in her young life, and never realizes she may not be able to fulfill them. She’s one in a group of people who could never achieve their dreams, but they’re intent on helping her follow them, regardless of what stands in their way. Arndt’s film becomes a lot more than a road trip film as it changes from a girl entering a pageant, to a family tagging along, and halfway in, transforms into something else entirely.

I loved it, every bit of it. It’s a humble and utterly entertaining family dramedy about life, unfulfilled dreams, limitations most of us can never over come, and taking life by the balls whether everyone likes it or not.

  • Bill Murray was the original choice to play Frank.
  • Although Frank's last name is never spoken in the movie, the sign outside his hospital room identifies him as Dr. Greenberg.
  • Dwayne's full name is never mentioned in the movie.
  • Abigal Breslin wore a fat suit for the part of Olive.

 

 

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