Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
The premise of this sweet and sentimental film is simple enough, for a family to get their daughter to a beauty pageant. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) is as fresh as American Beauty (1999) was innovative in how it portrayed the average American family, as dysfunctional and more normal than before. Combine that with a road trip film that usually don’t fall into family comedies, bringing to mind Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), usually a male genre which has been turned on its head.
For once I am seeing Steve Carell away from the usual wacky roles for which I’m used to seeing him in. Playing a darker role with the wit turned down a notch amongst an ensemble cast. Everyone has a chance in the limelight, even though it’s really about getting the youngest to a beauty pageant that takes up about a fraction of the running time.
The Hoover family their uncle Frank Ginsberg (Carell) come to stay with them after a failed suicide attempt, not the best of starts to a film, Staying with his sisters Sheryl (Toni Collette) family where her father in law Edwin Hoover (Alan Arkin) a heroin addict. Whilst her husband is struggle to keep his life coaching franchise going, waiting for a phone call that could make or break it. And a teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano) who has not uttered a word for 9 months. Whilst almost oblivious to all that is going on seven-year old Olive (Abigail Breslin) is lost to a world of beauty pageantry, the glamour that comes with this shallow industry that puts beauty above real talent. A staple in American culture in some families who dedicate their daughters lives to winning.
Through a reason of default Abigail is through to the final of Little Miss Sunshine, that means the Hoovers of Albuquerque have to make the long haul drive to L.A. Something that can’t really afford, not wanting to leave Frank on his own they all decide to leave in a classic yellow VW bus, old, worn out and full of surprises as we learn, carrying the family across the country.
The road trip is very eventful for all, from the clutch giving out, forcing them to all getting out to start them off each time. To more poignant and sombre moments that see the family lose the grandfather (Arkin) who had lived a full life and always spoke his mind, never lost for words. Which deservedly won Arkin a best supporting actor Oscar, compared to his more recent Argo (2012) nomination that really wasn’t worthy. His character’s death, instead of stopping them in their tracks, encourages them to go on, even in the face of an unsympathetic Bereavement officer Linda (Paula Newsome) who would have trapped them in paperwork, that no-one wants to deal with.
All the events bring the family closer together for the pageant, where we see young girls being placed under pressure to perform and be judged on the merits of beauty, a very subjective aspect of life. When finally the talent portion of the events arrives and it’s Olives turn the male members rush to bring everything to a halt. Thankfully Olive rises to the challenge throwing the contest on its head, cranking it to the extreme.
Full of laughs and tender moments that could tear a family apart, instead bring them together, and show that a road movie is not primarily for men on bikes or in cars. Life carries on when the Hoover’s hit the road. Something we can all relate to, as we travel long distances in such close quarters of other family members for extended periods of time. A holiday film just would cut it for what we have here. Anything and everything happens, slightly cliché on the right level for it to all work and come together.
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