You know when you can’t decide which performance is your favourite?
I am immensely grateful that I have never been on a days-long road trip with my family. Look, I love them with all my heart, but the idea of being trapped in a car for days at a time with the same three people only getting out every once in a while seems like something I just couldn’t do. Although, as some one who loves staying in hotels and eating at chain restaurants, maybe I would enjoy a road trip. You know what, I take it back. If my family is reading this review, let’s go on a road trip! My brother has always wanted to drive across Canada and if it means I can eat at Swiss Chalet and Jack Astors every day, I’m cool with that. Besides, no matter how rough our trip turns out, there’s no way it could match the pure chaos that unfolds on the worst family trip ever in Little Miss Sunshine (2006).
Little Miss Sunshine follows the dysfunctional Hoover family as they drive from New Mexico to California so that seven-year-old Olive can compete in the titular beauty pageant. Along the way each member of the Hoover family wrestles with their own personal crisis and come to learn that through better or worse, they’re a family and will always be there for each other.
Little Miss Sunshine is described as a “tragicomedy” which is a term that I’ve honestly never heard of before. I don’t think that’s a very accurate description of the movie’s tone. It’s edgy but it’s far from tragic and that’s why I think the term “dark comedy” is much more fitting. It’s also why I fell in love with this movie the first time I saw it. Little Miss Sunshine is such a sharp, witty, moving, real, and darkly comical story that I absolutely adore. I’m a big fan of everything from the directing, to the writing, to the acting in Little Miss Sunshine but I think what I love most is the overall theme of the movie. It really is a movie about a family coming together and proving that they’re there for each other through the worst of times, constantly supporting each other. They just maybe don’t go about in the sweetest way like most families do. They’re relatives but not really a family y’know? At least in the beginning. In the beginning they’re all so separate and couldn’t care less about each other, more wrapped up in their own problems. I love that the trip brings them together more than living in the same house could and they learn that maybe these people they’ve been sharing their lives with aren’t as bad as they thought. That deep down they love each other and are there for each other. They might not be happy about it and they might do so begrudgingly but they’re there. It’s a wonderfully surprising feel-good family movie that I think captures the power and beauty of family better than any cheesy, artificial Hallmark movie could. Sometimes it’s when a group is pushed to have to work and be together that they learn how to be a unit.
Part of what makes Little Miss Sunshine so incredible is that it’s the first work by both the screenwriter and the directors. Screenwriter Michael Arndt even went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his debut work! Speaking of debut, this is the first feature that Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris directed after years of directing music videos. Sidenote, the couple also directed the unique and charming Ruby Sparks (2012) which I enjoyed. Together, Arndt, Dayton, and Faris use their talents to craft a story that is pretty perfect from start to finish. The movie starts with a cool and concise introduction that separately sets up how flawed and in distress each of these different family members are which is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the phenomenal storytelling of Little Miss Sunshine. And such phenomenal pacing! The world, the stakes, the characters, what they want and who they are and what journey they’re on are all fully fleshed out in 20 minutes. The movie delicately and perfectly devotes time to each and their own personal setbacks, taking the time to show how they grow and overcome them. It’s always a mark of fantastic storytelling when your characters are in different places then when the story began, and Little Miss Sunshine accomplishes that beautifully. If I had to point to a movie that best describes the type of writing ad directing that I’m drawn to, Little Miss Sunshine would be at the top of that list. Oh, and let me just say that everything involving that obnoxiously yellow VW bus is hilariously iconic to me.
The cast of Little Miss Sunshine is made up of some of my favourite underrated yet always dependable actors. Alan Arkin, Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Abigail Breslin, Paul Dano, Steve Carell…AMAZING! I can’t believe this is Steve Carell’s first dramatic role. For someone who at the time was best known for comedies like The Office (2005 – 2013) and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), it’s quite a departure that was a glimpse at the astounding dramatic talent he’s capable of. As Uncle Frank he’s so deadpan and dry while being equally hilarious that it’s movies like this and Dan in Real Life (2007) that show how easily Carell can transition his comedy into these indie dramedies. By the way, check out my review for that movie, here.
The rest of the cast is equally as sensational. Collette just fucking nails it in everything she does. She always perfectly understands tone and is truly gifted at inserting drama into comedy or comedy into drama. I love how easily Kinnear can be the most charming hero in one movie and then the most deplorable asswipe int the next. As Richard, he;s just the most loathsome asswipe and it’s so enjoyable to watch. And Dano! Perfectly capturing this angsty, detached teen without any lines is brilliant! His stares could kill. In fact, this entire movie is one priceless expression after another. Breslin is such a fireball of charisma and talent for someone who was 10 at the time of filming.The way she stands her ground with these acting heavyweights is remarkable. For someone so young she’s great in this and was even nominated for an Oscar! Arkin more than matches up with the rest of the incredible cast and his reading of “every night it’s the fucking chicken!” never fails to put a smile on my face. Still, I’m surprised he picked up an Oscar for this performance. It’s a baffling win, especially considering he was up against Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls (2006). By the way, check out my review for that movie here.
It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of feel-good family comedies, but Little Miss Sunshine is more of one than most movies that dare to advertise themselves as such. This delightfully dark comedy filled with fabulously flawed characters is an all around winner and if you haven’t seen it, oh my God, please do! Now, I have to go plan the road trip I plan on forcing my family to take with me.
Are you as much a fan of Little Miss Sunshine as I am?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!