Little Miss Sunshine

 
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Written by:Michael Arndt
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, Steve Carell
Released: October 12, 2006
Grade: B+

I’ve been putting off this review for a while.  I’ve wanted to write it but haven’t been able to come up with the right words to describe the storyline and how I felt about it.  It’s not the kind of film you can describe in one sentence (and that’s a good thing).

The Hoover family are, to use an overused term, dysfunctional.  As head of the household, Richard (Kinnear) is a self-help guru struggling to make ends meet.  Few attend his seminars and no one is interested in publishing his “nine step” book.  Married to Sheryl (Collette), they have two children.  The eldest, Dwayne (Dano), has taken a vow of silence until he achieves his dream of joining the air force.  He hasn’t spoken in over a year.  Their young daughter, Olive (Breslin) is obsessed with beauty pageants and was the state runner-up in the recent Little Miss Sunshine show.  She’s coached by her foul mouthed grandfather, Edwin (Arkin)

The household is about to welcome a new addition.  Their Uncle Frank (Carell) recently tried to commit suicide after being left by his boyfriend, a young male college student.  The hospital wants Frank is to spend time with his family so he can clear his head and recuperate.  With no where else to go, he enters the Hoover’s strange world.

A simple phone call will send them on unexpected road trip.  The state winner of the Little Miss Sunshine pageant can’t make it to the national final and Olive has been called up as a replacement.  With no money for airfares, this nutty group set off from New Mexico in a dilapidated yellow Volkswagen van and head for California.  It’ll be a very bumpy ride.

A cross between National Lampoon’s Vacation and American Beauty, Little Miss Sunshine has proved to be an audience winner since it premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.  It cost a mere $8m (not bad for a film with three Oscar nominees) and a bidding war following the festival saw it purchased by 20th Century Fox.  To date, it has taken in $55m at the U.S. box-office and there’s a strong push to see it figure in Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.

It’s a nice little movie with a fantastic ending but I found myself laughing less than the majority of people at my screening.  Maybe I’ve seen one too many film about warped families.  Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood at the time.  It’s still well above your average American comedy.  Its multi-layered characters and darker undertones make sure of that.