Cast: Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin
Running Time: 1hr 41min
The Hoovers are a dysfunctional family living in hard times in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sheryl brings home her gay brother Frank, who is recovering from a suicide attempt, while her husband Richard tries to make it as a motivational speaker. The family discovers that youngest child Olive has just qualified for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in California in a couple days time.
So, Sheryl, Richard, Frank, and Olive pile into their bright yellow VW microbus, along with Richard’s foul-mouthed father Edwin, also Olive’s coach, and teenage son Dwayne to attend the pageant. Due to financial constraints, they are forced to make the 800-mile round trip in the VW, which, of course, breaks down. Though they get it partially fixed, it still needs to be pushed in order to get it to start!
Along the way Richard discovers he’s lost a major contract, putting the family into even more financial difficulty. Frank encounters his ex-boyfriend, while Edwin dies of a drug overdose. Dwayne, who is taking his vow of silence until he achieves his goal of becoming a pilot, discovers he’s colorblind, therefore cannot fly, so has a breakdown.
Arriving at the beauty pageant it becomes clear that Olive is out of her depth, and an amateur compared with the rest of the contestants. Still, she takes to the stage and reveals the super inappropriate dance her grandfather had been teaching her. The horrified judges try to get her to stop, but the family joins her on stage instead, as a show of support, before gleefully heading home.
Along the way they learn about life, love, hopes, dreams, letting go, and what it truly means to be a family.
Little Miss Sunshine is one of those under-the-radar gems. The sort of movie you never see too much advertising for, but, word of mouth spreads, and gets people interested. The movie is one of those feel-good films that will have you laughing, crying, cheering, and grinning by the end. You live and breathe this journey alongside the Hoovers, and see them grow as a family in the process. The themes in the movie surround the concept of winners and losers, and this plays a big role in the central ethos of the movie.
In the end, the Hoovers come to realize that the concepts of winner and loser are social constructs, and that, at the end of the day, people are what matter. Are you a good person? Do you do your best for your family? Are you proud to be yourself no matter what anyone else thinks? These are some of the questions central to the movie, and Michael Arndt’s Academy Award-winning screenplay dissects them wonderfully.
All the cast are stellar, and they have a wonderful chemistry between them. While Olive is the heart of the story, we think it’s Alan Arkin as Edwin (a role for which he won an Oscar) who really steals the film. The movie also makes a mockery of the ridiculousness of child beauty pageants and the idea of status. The best stories should always be about something, and this movie is about one family and their journey to find out who they really are. It’s not who they thought, and, you know what? They’re totally cool with that!