Little Miss Sunshine (2006) Dysfunctional Family Fun

Cover of "Little Miss Sunshine [Blu-ray]&...
Cover of Little Miss Sunshine [Blu-ray]
Written by Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) and directed by not one but two directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (these directors have been a ‘double-act’ for years, mainly in the realm of music videos and documentaries) Little Miss Sunshine is a ‘feel good film’ that entertains and amuses.

The film marks a couple of firsts. It was Michael Arndt’s first penned feature film and directorial team Dayton and Faris’s first full length feature film. Little Miss Sunshine had budget of 8 million dollars and was filmed in just 30 days on location in Arizona and Southern California.

It opened to rave reviews and to date has garnered a net profit of over 100 millions dollars. The film won two Oscars; Alan Arkin for best supporting actor and Michael Arndt for best original screenplay. The film went on to be nominated for a total of fifty-four times and garnered an additional fifty-two awards.

For an ‘Independent’ film, the cast list is impressive, Alan Arkin, Greg Kinnear, Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, and Abigail Breslin. It is overall an ensemble film, but it does revolve around Olive (Breslin) and her interactions with the family. She is the centre piece of the story and the other actors and events circulate around her.

The story is about the Hoover family. Richard (Kinnear) is the head of the family and he is peddling a “personal success” book and holding seminars to try and drum up interest in the book. He is a positive thinker who seems to be a cross between John Wayne – “Never apologise, it’s a sign of weakness” he says to Olive at one point in the film – and J.P. Morgan.

Sheryl (Collette) is the long suffering wife and mother, who tries to make the tight family budget fit their everyday needs and tries to keep the family happy. She is almost the polar opposite of Richard and she is the peace maker of the family.

Grandpa Edwin (Arkin) is the patriarchal head of the family, but in his mind only. He is old and he is busy trying all the things that are bad for you before he dies. He is full of advice, while the family are travelling he tells his grandson Dwayne (Dano) that  he should be ‘fucking’ all the women, not just those cute cheerleader type.[sic] He has helped Olive (Breslin) rehearse for her pageant competition by teaching her a ‘dance’ routine.

Picture of Abigail Breslin, American actress. ...

Olive dreams of competing in the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant and she gets her chance when the winner comes down with an illness. Dwayne hates his entire family and is refusing to speak to anyone, he writes his responses and statements down. He dreams of joining the ROTC for the Air Force and becoming a pilot.

Enter into the family mix Sheryl’s brother Frank (Carrell), he has just tried to kill himself and is suffering from depression since his male lover left him for another man.

When Olive finds out that she can compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, the family decide to take her there. Thus begins the road trip that will tear the family apart and then bring them together again. On the way out to the pageant Grandpa Edwin dies and the family have to steal his body from the hospital, because they don’t have the money to pay the bill and they don’t have time to bury him.

When Olive finally gets to the pageant the family are at breaking point.  when it’s Olive’s turn to participate in the talent portion of the pageant she tell the emcee that she’s dedicating her performance to her Grandpa as he taught it to her. When the emcee asks Olive where her grandpa is, she says, “Oh he’s in the car.”

Rick James‘s Super Freak starts playing and Olive comes out and begins her performance, which to the pageant’s organiser horror is a variation on a strippers act. When the organiser demands that dad Richard remove her from the stage, he decides instead to join Olive on the stage and dance with her. In a show of solidarity the entire family join Olive and dance together on the stage.

This film from start to finish made me laugh, made me cry and made me care for the characters in the film. At the beginning of the film, you can’t help but dislike Richard with his ‘gotta win’ philosophy, but by the end of the film you love him.

You actually wind up loving the whole dysfunctional family. By the end they are less dysfunctional and have learned so much about themselves that you know they will continue to grow and support each other.

The film is about dreams and failure and the acceptance of both. If I am feeling low, I watch Little Miss Sunshine and even though I choke up at the end, I feel immediately better.

About Michael Knox-Smith

World traveler, writer, actor, vlogger, blogger, journalist. Cinephile who reviews films, television, YouTube shows, Books and interviews professionals in the industry. Member Nevada Film Critics Society

7 thoughts on “Little Miss Sunshine (2006) Dysfunctional Family Fun

  1. Me & the Wife adore this movie – we too laughed and cried all the way through. the climax is hilarious; such a great moment for the entire film to build to – it’s in my all time favourite scenes it was so well done.

    I totally agree with your assessment of this film.

  2. Steve Carrell and Alan Arkin are hilarious in this film. I went to see it when it was still at the cinema, but haven’t seen it since. I need to rent a copy because I was the only person in my family to halfway enjoy it. Some of the old fuddy duddies weren’t impressed with the vulgarities and felt that they were sexualizing Olive. I don’t think so.

    1. They really felt that Olive was sexualised? Really?? Geeze Louise I’m over 50 and I didn’t think that. The fuddy’s and the Duddy’s need to get out more. LOL Alan Arkin has been a favourite of mine since Freebie and the Bean and the brilliant In-laws with Peter Falk. :-)

  3. Yeah Mike, this really was such a great movie. Life can be so incredibly awkward, unplanned, and disfunctional, and that’s what makes the movie so great. I loved it when I saw it a few years back. My sisters both adore it, and it was they who had me sit down and watch it for the first time. Anyone who really understands the depth of life’s ups and downs, with dreams both won and lost, will always choke up by the end. When the family starts helping in the performance… Manly-Tears-Award lol. Great review Mike!

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