Dysfunctional family fabulous.
Little Miss Sunshine is a wry road dramedy about the Hoover family. The miserable, miserable Hoover family.
There is long-suffering mom Sheryl (Toni Collette) who is fighting a losing battle to keep the family wheels oiled; her morose brother Frank (Steve Carell) the nation's foremost Proust scholar who is suicidal over the loss of his gay graduate student lover to a rival professor; just-can't-get-it-right dad Richard (Greg Kinnear) who is desperate to sell his 9-step plan to becoming a winner; Nietzsche-obsessed Dwayne (Paul Dano), Sheryl's son from her first marriage who has taken a vow of silence until he achieves his goal of becoming a pilot; and little Olive (Abigail Breslin), the sweet, awkward, enthusiastic daughter who has a dream to win the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in California this coming weekend. Oh, and don't forget Olive's trash-mouthed grandpa (Alan Arkin) who got kicked out of his retirement community for snorting heroin.
Little Miss Sunshine is, in a word, amazing. So much so that I barely even know where to start. The characters are all so deeply flawed, so wretched, so trapped in their situation that I just ate it up, letting their messy life wash over me like a glorious shower of misery. Every time the Hoovers have to push-start their raggedy old VW bus you feel the excruciating pain of their reality—that they are, each of them, underdogs. That, save for the naively optimistic Olive, they are all keenly aware that they are the losers that Richard is desperately trying to outstrip with his 9-step program. And their sense of that as they are trapped in that horrible car together makes their commitment to Olive's dream all the more touching.
What I think is even more remarkable is that Little Miss Sunshine was the first movie for both husband-and-wife director team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (who have previously directed music videos for the likes of REM and Weezer), and screenwriter Michael Arndt. Arndt's script is funny, witty, and poignant, and anyone who ever felt like they just weren't enough or hated being stuck with their family will recognize themself in this movie. Dayton and Faris show a true understanding of Arndt's work. The delicate tone they strike with this piece perfectly captures the sensibility of the Hoovers, and they are all a testament to independent film at its best.
The performances in Little Miss Sunshine are stunning across the board. Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, About a Boy) is her usual flawless self, the inimitable Alan Arkin (Glengarry Glen Ross, Inspector Clouseau) is such a raunchy pain-in-the-ass that I could barely keep from peeing on the seat, and Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The Office) once again manages to infuse characters with pathos and humility where you least expect it.
And as for 10-year-old Abigail Breslin (Raising Helen, Signs), all I have to say is move over Dakota Fanning, there is a new sheriff in town. Breslin is just so perfect as Olive that I was simply overwhelmed. Her acting skills are stunning, and she is just so sweet and vulnerable as this awkward little girl who wants more than anything to be a beauty queen (and whom you know doesn't have a shot in Hell at it), that you just want to scoop her up and protect her. And I don't even like children.
If I had to come up with one criticism, I'd have to say that Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets, Sabrina)—whom I love—may be too naturally likeable to fully realize the mean weenie that Richard is supposed to be. But that's not for lack of talent.
In short, run, do not walk, to the store to pick up your copy of Little Miss Sunshine. It is easily the best movie I've seen all year.
What's on the Disc:
The Little Miss Sunshine DVD can be viewed in widescreen of full screen format. It also includes the "Till the End of Time" (from the soundtrack) music video by DeVotchka, as well as four alternate endings and a really interesting commentary by Jonathan Dayton, Valeria Faris, and Michael Arndt that fans of the movie will enjoy.