Nine years ago the Hoover family took a road trip to a beauty pageant and gave us all a front row seat to their shenanigans. No, this was not a half-baked reality TV show, but instead a wonderful mirror image of the American family and what it means to really go through some shit. For those of you that still have no clue what I’m talking about, let me introduce you to the 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine.
Right off the bat the name screams irony but this is probably one of the most uplifting films I’ve ever seen. It’s not artsy and interspersed with images of the sun, but boy does it shine with an amazing ensemble cast. In my opinion it has everything; the gay suicidal uncle played by Steve Carell, the desperately optimistic and preachy father in the form of Greg Kinnear, the mum who tries to hold it all together played by Toni Collette (of Muriel’s Wedding fame, i.e. a fecking legend), along with a rebellious grandfather (Alan Arkin) and the moody and silent brother played perfectly by Paul Dano.
And even if we forget this all-star cast, there is the pursuer of the title of Little Miss Sunshine, played by Abigail Breslin. She is perfect as the seven year old who just wants to go and perform and one day become Miss America. She’s not a know-it-all, or a child genius that Hollywood often likes to represent on screen; instead she’s just a regular excitable kid, wanting to do the thing that makes her the happiest. I’m going to be straight up with you guys and also tell you that if you didn’t already know, she was nominated for a bloody Oscar for this film. Oh and did I mention she was only nine years old when that happened? #LifeGoals.
With the complexity of all the characters, it would have been easy for the story to get lost in the unfolding story lines, but it was not so. The story arc is the whole family in a VW bus travelling to one of those weird children’s pageants (there were doll-like children caked with make-up galore and it was TERRIFYING) so that Breslin’s character Olive can take part. The audience is given the focus of the road trip which of course has a beginning, a middle and an end, so you can pay attention to what else is going on in the film.
I won’t take you through it scene by scene (because I’ve been told people don’t like that apparently), but I will mention that the journey is riddled with emotional turmoil, and huge life events that we all hope never happen to us when crammed into a van with our nearest and dearest (and often most annoying). There’s the usual bickering between the brother in law and the husband, dreams are crushed on more than one occasion, and their mode of transport craps out on them pretty early on, which leads to a new and interesting way to get the van back on the road (think handbrake off and chasing the van down the street before getting in).
The heavy hitters that make up the Hoover family gelled so well together as an acting ensemble, I did think they should have taken that show on the road. Little Miss Sunshine, the series! I probably would have only watched the first episode before realising it probably didn’t have any legs to go the distance, but I like to dream dammit!
There were also side characters who really brought the comedy out in the midst of the family’s despair, including Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris (yes of Breaking Bad fame, although there was not a chemistry set in sight – that’s what that show’s about right?), Matt Winston as the hilarious, orange faced pageant MC, and Beth Grant who is currently on the Mindy Project as a cantankerous older nurse.
There isn’t one thing about this film that I did not like, and that’s really saying something because you know I’m British and we can complain about ANYTHING. What I loved the most though, was the dynamic of this little girl who in addition to her mother, had these three grown men who clearly cared so much about her well-being and happiness, that they were willing to travel hundreds of miles, embarrass themselves in front of strangers, and go through personal hells just to see her smile. That for me is what Little Miss Sunshine was all about; hope and optimism in the midst of a terrible, terrible time in life.
I give it 5 blue skies; watch this film and cheer yourself up.