Most little girls in modern America have names like Heather, Jennifer, or Elizabeth; Olive is not the typical name for a child and Little Miss Sunshine is not a typical movie. It tells the story of Olive Hoover, a sweet and innocent seven-year old girl living in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her family. Her mother Sheryl (played by Toni Collette) has the entire world on her shoulders as she tries to hold together the entire family financially and emotionally. Her father Richard (Greg Kinnear) is desperately peddling his self-help system of nine steps to success with no avail and practically bankrupting his family. Richard’s father Edwin (Alan Arkin) was recently expelled from his retirement home because of his foul-mouth antics and addiction to heroin. Olive’s teenaged half brother, Dwayne (Paul Dano), has taken a vow of silence until he reaches his goal of being a test pilot for the United States Air Force. To top it all off, Sheryl has just brought home her brother Frank (Steve Carell) to care for him after he lost his job, his relationship, and his failed attempt at suicide. In all of this dysfunction, Olive wants nothing more than to be Miss America. Pageants are her passion and with her grandfather Edwin as her coach, Olive dreams of walking across a stage donning her new crown and cradling an armful of roses. After participating in a small local contest, Olive qualifies to move on to a larger pageant after another contestant withdrawals from competition. Even though the family can barely stand to be in the same room with each other, the entire Hoover family decides to drive to the pageant in California in Richard’s old Volkswagen bus. Little Miss Sunshine tells the story of this life-changing and obstacle riddled journey full of comedy and tragedy, a family that is already too aware of the harshness of life tries to protect their youngest member from being exposed to a world full of perfectly tanned little girls on diets, dreams that find themselves destroyed, and the terribly fragile aspect of life.
Little Miss Sunshine is beaming with talented people who help make this movie the endearing new classic it is destined to become. The quintet of actors that compose the Hoover family all bring special aspects to their roles just like different individuals bring different characteristics to a family. Toni Collette as matriarch Sheryl gives one of the best performances of her life as a loving mother stretched to the limit trying to hold both her family and marriage together. Greg Kinnear is flawless as the father of this dysfunctional brood as he clings to the unlikely propriety of his success dogma. Alan Arkin gives an unblemished performance of a man who is nothing but plagued with the troubles of getting older and hiding is addiction. Arkin won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this role in 2007 and no one is more deserving. Steve Carell showcases his acting range as he takes on a role not typical for this successful comedian. He shines as Richard, the celebrated Proust scholar who has recently lost everything and has been suddenly thrust into the Hoover family chaos. Carell proves that he is not just a funny man, but also a skilled actor to watch for years to come. The young actors in Little Miss Sunshine also deserve kudos in making this film a success. Paul Dano is impeccable as the Nietzsche obsessed teenager who barely utters a single syllable as he declares hate for everyone around him but still has a soft spot for his little sister. Abigail Breslin is radiant as the darling and uncorrupted Olive Hoover. She has the poise of a seasoned professional and holds her own with this group of power houses.
Little Miss Sunshine does not set out to be categorized as a comedy or drama. Directors Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris set out to tell a story and allow the emotions of life to flow freely throughout creating a heartwarming, hilarious, and endearing picture. Michael Arndt won an Oscar for Best Writing in Original Screenplay. His witty dialogue and open and honest look into the troubles of the modern family makes the audience feel like a member of the Hoover clan, becoming emotionally invested into the story of Olive’s baptism into the harshness of the world. So many talented individuals worked successfully to present an honest and relatable story for any movie fan to enjoy that the list could continue for miles. Little Miss Sunshine rises to the top of great film making and proves a story about real individuals can be out of this world.