Little Miss Sunshine is a road trip movie starring Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin, directed by Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris, and written by Michael Arndt. The film follows a dysfunctional family as they travel cross-country in an old VW bus, determined to get their young daughter to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. It is an emotional journey as well as a physical one, as the film is tragic, heart-warming and really funny all at once. It’s important to note that while the story is about them trying to reach a beauty pageant, the meaning of the film is so much greater than that. It’s about the importance of family, and being confident and true in yourself, and, most importantly, finding happiness and love despite the difficulties of life. It’s actually quite anti-beauty pageant, and is a beautiful, touching film.
The characters that make up this crazy family are so varied and well created, they each have their own story and change in their own ways. They have many imperfections and are a broken family at the start, but throughout the film they grow past their flaws and are brought together beautifully.
Each character is very unique and believable, and they are all so diverse that everyone will connect to a different character. The performances are very true and heartfelt. Breslin is very sweet as the young daughter Olive and is definitely the most loveable character; it’s one of the best child performances there is. She is the only one in the family that is without a flaw but she isn’t dull, she is so full of hope and passion and she is the one that brings the family together. Steve Carrell’s performance as a severely depressed homosexual uncle Frank is really gripping and sad. I think this is one of Carrell’s best serious roles. Dano, the older son Dwayne, brings a good, hostile, performance without even speaking. He acts though complete silence (as his character is on a vow of silence) really well, and watching his disdain for his family turn into compassion is very emotional. Alan Arkin, the grandpa, brings a lot of energy and life to the role and is terrific fun to watch, but there is also an underlying sadness as he has a heroin addiction. Kinnear, the father Richard, starts as the least likeable, as he is obsessed with success and hates the idea of failure. However, he also changes the most, and Kinnear shows this brilliantly. Each of these characters has their own story in this film, each is touching in its own way. Comedy is created out of some very tuff scenarios through the family’s unity, as they are there for each other in the hard times despite their differences.
Unfortunately, Toni Collette’s character, the mother Sheryl, sticks out to me as being underdeveloped. She doesn’t really have her own character arc like the other characters, she’s just along for the ride. Her character is forced into the role of peacekeeper and carer of the family, which is sad in its own way as she is forced to fade into the background and keep her family together rather than focus on her own problems. Collette’s performance is still really good and she fits in brilliantly with the cast, it’d just be nice if she’d changed and grew like the other characters had.
On a final note, the film has a beautiful score. It stands out brilliantly in the opening squences, which is perfectly constructed to set up each characters problems.
Little Miss Sunshine is a very heart-warming film. There are a lot of sad moments but the overall tone of hope, love, acceptance, and joy is strong throughout. A beautiful film that is definitely worth a watch.
P.S. If you’ve watched the TV show Breaking Bad you’ll spot both Walter White (Brian Cranston) and Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) in small roles in this film.