The next film in our indie comedy trilogy shares a lot of similarities with Sideways not least of which is that both won the Best Ensemble Cast Prize at the Screen Actors Guild Award. Additionally, Little Miss Sunshine shares a lot of the same quirks and strong characters that made Sideways such a joy to watch.
I personally don’t think I can be that objective in my review of Little Miss Sunshine; which I first fell in love with when I saw it at the Stoke-on-Trent Odeon on a Sunday morning back in 2006. At the time I went to see it I knew very little about it but afterwards I instantly wanted to see it again and multiple viewings occurred over the following year. Sitting down to re-watch it I feared that it may not be that good over eight years later but these fears were unwarranted and by the end I was laughing and crying just as I did the first time I saw it. Just like Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine doesn’t have characters that are essentially likeable but by the end of the film you grow to love them. The essential plot sees the Hoover family travel from Albuquerque to California so that six-year-old daughter Olive can take part in the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant. The majority of Olive’s family aren’t the most identifiable of characters from her suicidal gay uncle Frank to her stroppy brother Dwight; who is currently in the throes of a silent protest. Her father Richard is possibly the most unlikeable of the bunch; a self-help guru who has poured all of the family’s money into his scheme entitled ‘the nine steps’. The family is completed by Richard’s cantankerous drug addicted father Edwin and Hoover matriarch Cheryl who is most concerned with keeping the family unit in one piece. Over the course of the film everybody has their own realisation about their hopes, aspirations and futures but screenwriter Michael Arndt presents the script in such a way that it never becomes sentimental.
In fact Arndt’s screenplay won one of Little Miss Sunshine’s two Oscars with the film also taking home the Supporting Actor prize for Alan Arkin’s turn as Grandpa Hoover. Almost forty years after his first nomination for The Russians are Coming; Arkin finally got to the podium for a broadly comic role that involved him shouting about sex and drug taking. However it was in Arkin’s more tender moments that the performance really came alive and I’m so glad that he won the award over original favourite Eddie Murphy. As Olive, Abigail Breslin was also nominated for her performance and I felt she was another deserving nominee as she gave an innocent and mature turn for someone so young. More impressive performances were delivered by Steve Carell as the depressive Frank and Paul Dano; who role as Dwight meant that he had to be silent for the majority of the film. The quirky nature of the film is never overpowering and each character feels realistic which as a result makes you care for them even more. Another character of the film is the Hoover family’s yellow VW Bus in which they make their cross-country journey. Over the course of the movie, the van breaks down causing the family to have push it along every time they need to get back on the road. These comic sequences are well executed however the majority of the laughs are reserved for Olive’s final performance at the pageant itself. Uplifting, warm, witty and well put together, Little Miss Sunshine is a film that never overstays its welcome and is one that I’ll never get tired of watching.