Little Miss Sunshine is an off the wall, rollicking picture of an acutely dysfunctional family that has a warm and fuzzy finish. Reminiscent of Malcolm in the Middle, the film tracks a family's calamity-filled road trip from New Mexico to California to compete in a child beauty pageant. With Murphy's Law prevailing at every turn, what should have been a mundane, uneventful journey became a misadventure that would test the family bonds of even the Waltons.
Our story opens with little 7 year old Olive Hoover (the adorable Abigail Breslin: Signs) watching a beauty pageant on TV and mimicking the actions of the contestants -- living her fantasy of being crowned vicariously through them. Although Olive has placed as a runner up in a local competition, she is dying to participate in the prestigious Little Miss Sunshine pageant, but coming in second place doesn't give her a spot in Little Miss Sunshine. However, luck is on her side as the winner loses her crown, and Olive now has a chance to go to California for the pageant. The entire family is behind her, but they are strapped for cash and can't afford to fly, so they decide to pile into the family's raggedy ass VW bus, and they stab westward towards the Golden State.
The Hoover family, who could easily be related to The Simpsons, are prime candidates for Dr. Marvin Monroe's Family Therapy Center. This bizzare tribe encompasses father Richard (Greg Kinnear: Fast Food Nation), an unsuccessful motivational speaker; the overly vexed mother Sheryl (Toni Collette: The Sixth Sense); Olive's drug addicted grandpa (Alan Arkin); her Nietzsche worshiping brother Dwayne (Paul Dano: The Ballad of Jack and Rose); and her gay suicidal uncle Frank (Steve Carell: The 40 Year Old Virgin, The Office). The only calm and sane member of the group is the sweet little Olive -- who while dear and delightful, is an awkward coke-bottle bespectacled unpolished lass who is not at all your typical beauty pageant material-- but she is lovable and bright nonetheless. She accepts and loves her family despite all their problems and shortcomings, and takes everything in stride, in many aspects like Lisa Simpson. It becomes evident after our 20-minute introduction to the Hoovers, that this cast of kooky kinfolk redefines the concept of the dysfunctional family.
The majority of what occurs in the movie occurs in the clunky VW van, which is just as quirky and woeful as the carbon based life forms who ride within it. The vehicle has a broken clutch which is a precursor to a recurring joke through out the film. The dilapidated state of the vehicle matches the condition of the Hoover family unit. The family's situation and emotional dynamic mimic the vehicle they are riding - they both have a bumpy uphill struggle and end up going downhill fast.
The humor and wit in this film allows the subdued tension to slowly but steadily build until everyone's ire, discontentment, and angst erupts like a burst boil on the ass. What happens to the hapless Hoovers is darkly funny, even when tragedy strikes. However, one of the most unsettling parts of the film is when the family finally arrives at the pageant. We see the ignoble competition played out, with little girls who are 10 years old going on a Vegas showgirl, all tarted up, cavorting around the stage, looking like a pedophile's wet dream. It's all so disturbingly evocative of JonBenet Ramsey. It's sick how these little girls are forced into this repulsive spectacle by mothers who are compensating for their own unfulfilled dreams of glory. Ironically, the film's pièce de résistance takes place at the nauseating babe parade and it'll having you laughing and shaking your head in an "oh no they're not..." type disbelief.
This film was a triumphant success at the Sundance Film festival and the rights were quickly purchased by Searchlight to the tune of $10 million (the movie cost $8 million to make). Initially it was only available at art house cinemas and film festivals, but it gained a wider distribution as word of this demented feature spread. While it could have easily become another National Lampoon's Vacation or some other template scripted family road trip flick, the movie goes beyond that by taking chances and being just plain weird.
Well written and well acted, Little Miss Sunshine is arguably one the year's best films. It explores family dynamics in a more realistic fashion and hints that even the Cleavers might be able to learn a thing or about family solidarity. The actors play their part with confidence and competency, never coming off contrived or artificial. Emotions are astutely manifested in both comical and touching ways. The characters are well developed and the movie moves at a swift clip, never letting the story veer off or get slow. Little Miss Sunshine is splendidly entertaining and a delightful change from the disappointing tripe that Hollywood has been cranking out lately. This film is testament that family, no matter how fucked up, is still family, especially in times of turmoil. This family, although they make the The Royal Tenenbaums look like the Huxtables, has a little bit of sunshine in them... even if it is hidden behind the some dark storm clouds.
Czarina's Caustic Comment or Captious Compliment: Little Miss Sunshine is a ray of light.
Little Miss Czarina
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