Eye For Film >> Movies >> Little Miss Sunshine (2006) Film Review
The Hoover family are going through a rough time. The father, Frank (Greg Kinnear), is struggling to sell his self-improvement techniques, son Dwayne (Paul Dano), has taken a vow of silence until he gets into the airforce, seven-year old daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) wants to enter a beauty pageant, Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) attempted suicide his career and relationship hit the skids and Grandad (Alan Arkin) has been kicked out of his retirement home for snorting heroin. As stressed mother Sheryl (Toni Collete) tries to hold all this together, the family take a road-trip to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest.
Given that the story involves suicide, drugs, death, teenage frustration, Nietzsche, Proust and a multitude of career disappointments, you’d be justified in expecting a bit of a bleak-fest. However, despite this and the fact that it’ll probably be written off as another quirky indie-flick, Little Miss Sunshine has more than enough smiles for anyone open-minded enough to give it a try.
Married directing team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris leap from their documentary/music video background and manage to hit the perfect tone for every occasion. Like the RV that the Hoovers travel in, the movie covers a lot of ground, flitting across the emotional spectrum from warm and life-affirming to sad and tragic at the drop of gay magazine named Buns And Ammo. Without any clunky shifts or clumsy direction changes, Little Miss Sunshine impressively manages both knee-slapping and tear-jerking.
However, where it really shines is in its depiction of family. With all the household roles covered (the quarrelling parents, the interesting uncle, the introverted stubborn teen, the optimistically innocent child, the popular Grandad who spends his time with the youngest) Little Miss Sunshine strikes familiarity chords for fun as it gives us confrontations with in-laws, argumentative group gatherings and tender moments of understanding that can only come from family. In addition, using Olive’s relationship with her Grandad or Frank’s dynamic with Dwayne as an example, it also shows that sometimes there are family members that we just bond with.
Though hailed as the ‘little movie that could’ (we get one every year), Little Miss Sunshine boasts a big cast. Kinnear and Collette are solid despite being outshone, Dano does a nice line in teenage angst and Breslin puts in a performance ahead of her years. Though Carell is stand-out combining introspective pathos with subtle laughs in a surprisingly straight role (more of this please), it's veteran journeyman Alan Arkin who shines brightest as the advice-dispensing, scene-pinching hoot.
While there are a plethora of tags that could describe it (warm, funny, true, moving, absorbing), the beauty pageant offers the best summation as it features well-observed satire, great acting, chuckles aplenty and proof that beauty sometimes goes hand in hand with heartbreak. Like life itself, Little Miss Sunshine finds real meaning not in the end result, but in the journey.Reviewed on: 17 Apr 2009
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