Little Miss Sunshine
A Review by Tom Condon,
(St. Martin Province)
Tells the story of the Hoovers, one
of the most endearingly fractured families ever seen on motion picture
screens. Together, the motley six-member family treks from Albuquerque
to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, California,
to fulfill the deepest wish of 7-year-old Olive, an ordinary little
girl with big dreams.
Talk about a dysfunctional family!
Little Miss Sunshine, the new comedy, features
the Hoover family, one for the books. Foul-mouthed Grandpa likes
pornography and cocaine. Dad aspires to be a motivational speaker,
although no one can stand to hear his speech. Mom always seems
stressed out (can you blame her?) Uncle is a gay, suicidal philosopher.
Brother has a goal: acceptance into the Air Force Academy. That
sounds normal enough. The catch is that he refuses to speak until
he achieves his goal. Young daughter Olive practices a beauty
pageant routine with Grandpa daily.
One evening at dinner, Olive receives a call stating that there
is an opening for her in the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant to be
held in Redondo Beach, California, starting in two days. The only
problem is that Olive and her family live in Albuquerque. Since
they can’t afford plane tickets, the whole family decides
to hops into the broken-down Volkswagen van and heads to California.
Miss Sunshine follows the family to the beauty pageant. As you
can imagine, many crises occur along the way, all offbeat, some
funnier than others. As you can guess, by the end of the road
trip, we have learned to love these wacky people, and they learn
to accept each other, warts and all.
I must admit that I found the whole child beauty pageant idea
a bit creepy. It is played for laughs, but I still found it difficult
to watch the way these young girls are exploited to fulfill their
parents’ ambitions. Olive does not fit the traditional mold
of youthful beauty queens in looks or talent. Olive performs last
in the talent competition with a routine she learned from Grandpa.
Amazingly, no one else in the family has seen Olive’s routine.
Let’s just say it’s not baton-twirling!
As much as it prides itself in being non-traditional, Little
Miss Sunshine is pretty formulaic in its structure. However, it
is blessed with a first-rate cast, including Toni Collette, Steve
Carell, and Alan Arkin. Particularly good is Greg Kinnear as the
would-be motivational speaker Richard. His hopelessly optimistic
routine plays out until not even he believes its message anymore.
Kinnear lets us see the humanity underneath the forced optimism.
The young Abigail Breslin is totally winning as Olive, taking
it all in through her huge glasses. Even though she is the youngest,
she comes across as the wisest of them all.
Little Miss Sunshine is the first film I know to be co-directed
by a husband/wife team: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris, from
a first screenplay by Michael Arndt. They all show a lot of promise,
which I hope will be more fully realized in future endeavors.
Tom Condon, OP