All in the Family: Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine is a charming road-trip film that declares when we actually give our family a chance, we might discover they’re not so bad after all.

Starring:   Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin and Abigail Breslin
Written by: Micheal Arndt
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
103 Minutes

At first glance, Little Miss Sunshine could easily be dismissed as the nothing more than the pretentious quirky indie. As someone who loves the quirky indie to death I can attest that yes, it may have some of the signs of the “Look at us, aren’t we a cool” kinda film. But I can also say that with a smart script by Michael Arndt (who won an Oscar for it) and a thoroughly enjoyable ensemble cast, the film more than makes up for its over-stylized elements.

When the film begins, each family member is completely separate from each other. Richard (Greg Kinnear) likes to think of himself as the confident head of the Hoover household. In truth, Richard is a failed motivational speaker whose career ambitions is both bankrupting him and ruining his marriage to Sheryl (the brilliant Toni Collette, my favourite actor in the bunch).

Sheryl’s brother Frank (Steve Carell, who does dramatic surprisingly well) is a university professor who’s just tried to commit suicide after an inappropriate crush on a student ruined his personal and professional life.

Dwayne (Paul Dano who just like in There Will be Blood is the least interesting actor in the ensemble), Sheryl’s son from her first marriage, has decided to deal with his teenage years by taking a vow of silence. Richard’s father Edwin (the hilarious Alan Arkin) has moved into the Hoover household after being kicked out his retirement home for snorting heroine.

While everyone in the household deals with life in their own stressed out little bubble, Sheryl tries to be the glue that keeps everyone together. Stress is getting the better of Sheryl: with all the problems with her son, brother and husband, she knows she’s not doing the best job at being mom. Sometimes I think Toni Collette should get an honorary oscar just for being so awesome. Seriously, when has she ever been bad in a film?

The truth is the only happy member of the Hoover household is eight year old Olive (Abigail Breslin, who at ten years old was nominated for an Oscar for her performance). Olive’s innocence allows her without knowing it to be a bullshit detector: its hard for the family to tell Olive to go screw off like they do so easily  with each other.

Olive’s obsession is with beauty pageants. Although Olive isn’t a great beauty everyone in the family encourages her, Grandpa Edwin even serves as her coach.   When Olive learns that she’s been selected as a contestant in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, the film becomes a road trip story as  the whole unhappy family finds themselves pilling into their old VW bus and driving from New Mexico to California to attend the pageant.

It is here while forced to be in the same confined space for thousands of miles, the Hoover family slowly starts to discover that their annoyance and resentment of each other might not be entirely deserved. When it matters Richard can raise to the occasion and Sheryl knows exactly how to be a good mother when she has to. Frank and Dwayne even develop a special kinship when they realize that life isn’t quite as awful as they’ve always believed.

And most of all the family realizes its strength as a unit  when it comes to the protection of its youngest and most positive member.  Just like the relationships in the Hoover family, this film is a story that grows on you until you can’t help but fall in love with it.

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  • This is just a great film. I love Arndt’s work on this and Toy Story 3. I’m excited to see him as a panelist at Austin Film Festival 2010. If you guys live in the area, you should look into it. This year seems like it is going to be really great!

  • Thanks for your comments! Going to the Austin Film Festival sounds like a blast, but sadly most of us Forget the Box folks are up in Canada.

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