Dysfunctional Hoover Still Works
You could say that "Little Miss Sunshine" is a road trip movie with all the bumps and issues which befall this sort of movie. But where as many road trip movies are out and out comedies "Little Miss Sunshine" is more quirky, even a little disturbing and much darker when it comes to the comedy. And it has to be said it works, maybe not the first time you watch "Little Miss Sunshine" as it feels a little weird, but on subsequent viewings where the cleverness and comedy shine through. As such "Little Miss Sunshine" is a surprisingly good movie and one which deserved the awards and praise which it garnered following its release back in 2006.
Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear - Stuck on You) is not having much success at selling his "motivational success" programme and is less than happy when his wife Sheryl (Toni Collette - In Her Shoes) brings her brother home to live with them having just been released from hospital having tried to commit suicide. If that wasn't bad enough Richard's son Dwayne (Paul Dano - There Will Be Blood) has taken a vow of silence, his father Edwin (Alan Arkin - Noel) also lives with them and is rude to everyone plus there is young Olive (Abigail Breslin - Signs) who is obsessed with beauty pageants. It's Olive's obsession which leads them all on a nightmare road trip as they try to make it to Redondo Beach, California for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant.
So at its heart "Little Miss Sunshine" is a road trip movie but before it gets into that part of the story it introduces us to a very dysfunctional family from the suicidal Frank through to failed entrepreneur Richard. A serious eclectic bunch of characters to come from the same family but it works because whilst we have the ups and downs of the road trip we also get the comedy of the less than smooth family dynamics. So you get the amusement of Richard trying to turn everything into a motivational moment, whilst his father is loud and obnoxious telling Richard's son that he should get out there and bed a lot of women. It is all a little strange; in fact it is very strange because of the diversity of these characters but at the same time seriously amusing.
And that strangeness continues with the whole premise of young Olive wanting to appear in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. I've never been into the whole beauty pageant thing but watching young girls parading around in swimsuits, with huge hair and layers of make up borders on the freaky. It's probably wrong for me to say it but I found myself laughing at the whole weirdness of it all, the little children with hair so big that it makes them look deformed.
Plus of course on top of all this quirkiness there is the road trip element to the movie where we get this dysfunctional family travelling to Redondo Beach, California from their New Mexico home in a VW camper van. And as you would expect from this road trip set up it is littered with issues such as the typical break down, arguments and so on. But whilst here is plenty which is typical about this road trip element there are embellishments which most certainly aren't. And in the style of the rest of the movie these embellishments are rather strange and darkly funny.
Being a movie which feeds of being quirky it has to be said that the performances also feel rather strange. Watching Steve Carell as the silent and subdued suicidal Frank feels weird especially when you think of Carell for his more normal comedies. And the same can be said of Abigail Breslin who is slightly strange as the beauty pageant obsessed Olive, which leads to one of the movies funniest scenes when they all reach Redondo Beach. But to be honest it is Alan Arkin who steals "Little Miss Sunshine" from everyone because as Grandpa Edwin Hoover he is loud, obnoxious, rude but also hugely funny with his outspoken views. Scene after scene Arkin delivers this wonderful character which we know is intentionally politically incorrect but he makes us laugh.
What this all boils down to is that "Little Miss Sunshine" is a wonderful movie, a dark, quirky comedy which takes the unoriginal concept of a road trip and turns it into something much more. It does feel like a bit too strange when you first watch it but it is a movie which demands at least a second viewing to appreciate the cleverness and the comedy without being shocked by its almost eccentric nature.