This is a movie for those who savour and appreciate pure, simply dysfunction.
“Little Miss Sunshine” follows an atypical American family on an atypical American road trip. The Hoover family: a failed motivational speaker father (Greg Kinnear), a nerve-wracked mother (Toni Collette), a heroin-addicted grandfather (Alan Arkin), a post-suicidal, gay Proust-scholar uncle (Steve Carell), a Nietzsche-worshipping son on a vow of silence (Paul Dano), and Olive — a 7-year-old who wants nothing more than to win the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant.
When Olive finds out she’s been selected (by default) to participate in the pageant finals, the clashing family pack themselves into a crumbling VW van and head for sunny California.
Of course, the trip doesn’t exactly follow the stock themes that most road movies adhere to like a GPS-tracked route. Well there is individual and collective self-discovery amongst the family, there’s little sap and no attempts to normalize their characters (notably, though, their dysfunction seems perfectly pedestrian when compared to the thoroughly messed up world of children’s beauty pageants).
The actors execute their varied characters with incredible ease, as well, adding to the qualities of both endearment and amusement that make “Little Miss Sunshine” such a strong film. Carell, in particular, balances his incredible comedic skills with a complex, troubled character, revealing abilities that are sadly not a part of his usual gig on The Office. As well, 10-year-old Abigail Breslin, in her role as Olive, emerges as a young talent; she’s able to pull off Olive’s childlike enthusiasm and naiveté while holding her own alongside more seasoned actors like Kinnear and Collette.
The DVD offers little in the way of extras — a couple (misguided) alternate endings, as well as commentary from the director and screenwriters (there may be more on the double-sided official release, but that’s all the screener copy offered). But “Little Miss Sunshine” doesn’t need any extras to be worth picking up — or even watching more than once, for that matter. It’s one of the funniest, most oddly heartwarming films of 2006, and will hopefully now get the attention it deserved in theatres.