Little Miss Sunshine still manages to hold up with plenty of laughs thirteen years after the film was initially released in theaters.
Overworked mother Sheryl Hoover (Toni Collette) now finds herself responsible for her brother, Frank (Steve Carell). Frank recently tried to kill himself so he’s coming to live with his sister’s family. Meanwhile, man of the house Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) is trying to start up a career as a life coach and motivational speaker. Sheryl’s son, Dwayne (Paul Dano) has been mute for some nine months until he reaches his goal of becoming a test pilot in the Air Force. Oh Dwayne, if only you knew then what you’ll know later on in the film. Richard’s father, Edwin (Alan Arkin) is also living with the family because his drug problems forced him out of the retirement home. Finally, there’s Olive (Abigail Breslin), the aspiring beauty pageant contestant.
Here’s a film that isn’t afraid to be open about depression and sexuality. Think about it. This is a film produced in 2005. This was a time period when talking about depression was largely seen as a stigma. How many families would truly be comfortable to discuss these subjects with their seven year old daughter? It’s honestly insane! Even though they do try to shut the conversation down, it’s also allowed to play out.
While doubling as a family road trip film, Michael Arndt’s very smartly written script can also be seen as a subversion of child beauty pageants. When Olive is up there dancing to “Super Freak,” members of the audience walk out. Moreover, one of the judges is visually disgusted although another is having fun with Olive’s routine. Edwin would certainly be proud of his granddaughter!
The film does follow the road trip cliches but manages to have some fun along the way. There may not be a dog dying from running behind the vehicle like in Vacation. Edwin’s death and being stored in the back of the Volkswagen comes pretty darn close. It’s just one of many reasons why Little Miss Sunshine succeeds as it does. Even though the yellow Volkswagen Type 2 is aging, it also provides many bonding opportunities for the family. They never miss an opportunity so much to the point in which Dwayne starts talking again.
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris direct a star-studded cast of performers here. Alan Arkin, who would win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, delivers a masterful performance as a drug-addicted grandfather. Abigail Breslin, also nominated, delivers a breakout performance. All of the performers here are working off of Arndt’s Oscar-winning screenplay. At the time of release, people were familiar with Carell’s comedy work. Carell was a veteran of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and recently started up on The Office. He could also be seen in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. So naturally, one would expect the outlandish style in his approach. Instead, we get a more grounded performance by Carell and the film is all the better for it.
Little Miss Sunshine is one of the film festival gems that is just as smart and funny so many years later.
DIRECTORS: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
SCREENWRITER: Michael Arndt
CAST: Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, with Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin