Little Miss Sunshine delights audiences with its almost unbelievable eccentricity, and still manages to earn a nod of empathy with its heartfelt situations. This balanced mixture of pathos and humor helps to transform
the Hoover family’s chaotic voyage from New Mexico to California into a captivating story.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have produced an exceptional film. This dramatic comedy, filmed in Arizona and Southern California, and made for a mere three million dollars, proves that an amazing movie that both looks and sounds great (without special effects) can be made on a budget. While the predicable tale of a dysfunctional family has never been overly surprising, the absurd mishaps of the Hoover family make the story exceptionable. Little Miss Sunshine follows the path of a family struggling to remain together, while driving 800 miles (in their yellow VW bus) from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach – to the “Little Miss Sunshine” beauty pageant (the namesake of the movie.) The voyage, rocky and unpredictable, causes tension among all of the family members. Despite minor disputes, whenever the entire family becomes affected by unfavorable conditions, they bind together to push the journey forward, without question. Their quest represents both a road-trip to California, and the personal quests of self-discovery among each of the family members.
The first character to be introduced is Olive (Abigail Breslin). Cute, and slightly rotund, like her name, Olive focuses on her dream of becoming the next “Little Miss Sunshine.” Her undeniable innocence causes distress among viewers, because of her willingness to partake in a shallow pageant that contradicts her character. Coach to Olive for the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant is her grandfather, played by Alan Arkin. Despite his protectiveness of Olive, he more often portrayed as an ornery heroin addict, who was kicked out of his convalescent home and forced to live with his son’s family. His son, the annoyingly stubborn Richard (Greg Kinnear), spends his time promoting his (perpetually unsuccessful) “Nine Steps” to becoming a winner. His ideals circulate around this declaration: “There are two kinds of people in this world, winners and losers.” To Richard, his stepson, nonconformist Dwayne (Paul Dano) exemplifies a follower of the “Nine Steps,” through his determination in maintaining a vow of silence until his goal is reached. However, the expressions of angst-ridden, mute Dwayne reveal his resentment toward this idea. Mother to Olive and Dwayne, is Sheryl (Toni Collette), the supporter of the family, financially and emotionally. Sheryl acts as the glue to sustain what minimal stability the Hoover’s have. Her maternal instincts even affect her outcast brother, Frank (Steve Carell). After a failed attempt at suicide, Frank is compelled to live with the Hoover family and even travel with them to California. Though depressed, Frank’s sarcasm, combined with his intellect (as a former professor), add wry humor to the plot.
Each character in Little Miss Sunshine is extremely different to the next, and each follows his or her own journey of development. Olive learns to become comfortable in her own skin, the Grandpa continues to act as he wants, Richard accepts the possibility of imperfections, Dwayne accepts the idea to “do what you love,” but with love, Sheryl finds happiness by bringing the family together, and Frank accepts and appreciates his life. While each character does progress, this maturity only occurs with the assistance of the clashing, chaotic family members.
This heartfelt, emotional, problematic, and simply amazing story of family values, dealing with people, expectations, love, and hate, and everything in between achieves the task of filling the soul with sadness, laughter, and joy.