The daughter of a Nine Steps to Success motivational speaker is an alternate in a regional beauty pageant and gets a call telling her that she is now the first choice to make the trip from New Mexico to the west coast to compete in the national competition. This adoring family perceives Olive’s beauty pageant experience as a journey into independence and self-expression. Ironically, the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant sees the pageant as a journey into polished talent and artifice. Here we have a conflict
Interestingly enough, and coincidentally, Olive’s Uncle Frank has just come to stay following his release from a psychiatric ward and has white bandages wrapped around his wrists. His visit coincides with the presence of the motivational speaker’s dad, who has just a bit of trouble regulating his self-expressiveness, which contrasts markedly with the son Dwayne who has, also ironically, just given up speech because a beautiful dream was not a winner.
On the road trip, which is a mix of comedy and drama, the car door falls off, a corpse turns up, someone gets left behind—temporarily—and Murphy’s Law holds full sway. It is tragic, the things that happen. But through it all, Dwayne starts talking again, Uncle Frank finds what to live by through his own advice to another and Olive realizes her moment of independence and self-expression—oh—but in what ways these things are accomplished!
Little Miss Sunshine is an original road trip giving twenty-first century meaning to a twentieth century genre best immortalized by Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable in It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934). The script is perfection for authenticity and humor. The best thing being that these people are not trying to be humorous—they just are—because they give us a distanced glance at what really happens in life. The directing of Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton (wife and husband) puts it all together like a patchwork quilt made from mismatched sewing scraps: In the end, it’s a work of art but not because it’s made of symmetrical stars and circles.
The cast itself is a work of art; every individual actor and character is as different as the varied ingredients of minestrone and as deliciously palatable when served up—with just a sharp tang here and there. Abigail Breslin; Tony Collette; Steve Carrel, as the depressed and unwittingly wise Uncle Frank; Dwayne, the also depressed high school aged son; Richard, the motivational dad; and Alan Arkin as Grandpa Hoover, the un-self-regulated grandpa who still has WW II bullets rattling around inside of him, collectively and individually put out a performance as fine as the gears of a Swiss cuckoo clock.
Little Miss Sunshine is R rated and though about a family journey with Abigail Breslin in the lead, it is not a film for the family to watch (How do they do that: Have a child star in a R rated film? Hmmm…). Because of language, sexual, emotional and drug content, Little Miss Sunshine is a film for adults; it is not a family film.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris – Directors (previous work in Video and TV, feature film debut)
Michael Arndt – Writer (first screenplay)
Abigail Breslin - Olive Hoover (Regional Miss Sunshine)
Greg Kinnear - Richard Hoover (motivational dad)
Toni Collette - Sheryl Hoover (mom)
Steve Carell - Frank Ginsberg (uncle)
Paul Dano - Dwayne Hoover (speechless son)
Alan Arkin - Grandpa Edwin Hoover (expressiveness personified)
Buy the Soundtrack! Little Miss Sunshine, Soundtrack at Amazon
Buy the Script! Little Miss Sunshine: The Shooting Script at Amazon
Little Miss Sunshine DVD available at Amazon for your viewing pleasure.