In 2000 Abigail Breslin starred in a quirky movie directed by husband and wife Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Little Miss Sunshine won two Oscars, one for best supporting actor by Alan Arkin (the wildly inappropriate grandpa) and for the original screenplay by Michael Arndt. Arndt has actually worked as a writer on quite a few other successful movies, including The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Toy Story 3. So if you need someone to blame for making you cry everytime you see any of the Toy Story movies now, blame Arndt (super intrigued by the teaser trailer for Toy Story 4, by the way. And yes, I did link two different teasers. Both need to be watched).
Arndt’s Little Miss Sunshine is the story of a dysfunctional family. Each character has their own quirk that can make them loveable and infuriating at the same time. The movie starts off introducing us to the family. They sit down for a family dinner after Sheryl Hoover picks her brother up from the hospital. He is going to stay with them for a while since he had just attempted suicide. After meeting the family, a phone call comes in letting the Hoover family know that Olive Hoover, the seven year old daughter, is eligible for the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California.
The problems: the pageant is that weekend, Sheryl can’t drive stick, Frank can’t be left alone, and Grandpa wants to go because he had been coaching Olive for the pageant. So the whole family has to accompany Olive to the pageant. With half the family excited and the other half accepting that they’re going to be miserable all weekend, they start off on their 700 mile road trip to California. Between family drama and engine problems, the audience is left wondering if they will make it in time (or at all). The movie really is the story of each family member and their personal journey. They each grow over the spontaneous weekend trip.
To start, there is the father, Richard Hoover (played by Greg Kinnear). Richard fell on the infuriating side of the spectrum more than the loveable for me. His drive to become a successful motivational speaker and writer comes across as self-centered. He believes in his mediocre success so much that he is willing to risk the family’s financial stability and the fact that he does not get the book deal just puts him in a worse light. He had his moments (if I’m being honest, I’m having a hard time thinking of specific ones right now… they were few and far between. If I’m missing something big, please comment below!), and he obviously loved his family, but I can’t get over the fact that he manipulated his daughter into passing up ice cream by he convincing his seven year old that she would get fat if she ate it. What kind of person does that? The scene turned out sweet when the rest of the family ate Olive’s ice cream and over acted their enjoyment to convince the girl to eat it despite her father’s advice, but how this family could stand to live with the man is beyond me (I supposed there wouldn’t have been a dysfunctional family without him though. So there is that).
Richard’s father didn’t hesitate calling his son out on his mediocre success. Grandpa Hoover was a great comedy relief in the movie (albeit, dark comedy, but I enjoyed it). It was hard to argue with his belief system on drug use: you’d be an idiot to use it while you are young with a whole life ahead of you, and you’d be that same idiot if you didn’t use it in your old age when death is knocking at your door. This, along with sleeping with many women, led him to be kicked out of a retirement home and living in the basement of his son’s house. I wonder if Grandpa didn’t intentionally get himself kicked out because he wanted to live with his family. He couldn’t have been happier coaching Olive in her beauty pageant, and giving anyone who would listen to him pieces of wisdom. As much as it made sense that he died of a heroin overdose during the road trip, I was bummed to no longer hear Grandpa spew all his life lessons.
The glue that held the whole family together was Sheryl Hoover (played by Toni Collette). Sheryl epitomized a midwestern mom with her take out chicken meals, mediating family conflicts, and providing all of them the tender love and care she believed moms should give. She reminded me of Natalie Portman in Where the Heart Is (a mom who doesn’t know what she is doing half the time, but she’s going to keep moving forward anyway and excel at motherhood!) She supported every whim her family decided on from a son that took a vow of silence, to a brother who needed to stay under suicide watch. At the same time, you just wanted to pull the woman in for a hug and give her a much needed drink. She was the glue that held the family together, but you could see in the opening scene that the glue was dry and cracking.
Dwayne played the eldest of the Hoover children. He was the academic side of goth with his obsession with Nietzsche (try spelling his name without looking!) and vow of silence. I cried (I’m a crier in movies) when he discovered he could not be a pilot. As much as he unfairly judged his family, he still fit right in with his dreams. Richard dreamed of being a motivational tycoon; Sheryl dreamed of having her put together family; Olive dreamed of being a beauty queen; Grandpa dreamed of a blissful heroin and women filled end; Frank wished for his old life back. Dwayne dreamed of being a pilot and when Olive discovered he was color blind to fill the long car ride, he lost it. Paul Dano did a great job of showing Dwayne’s grief as beyond word. Who wasn’t a teenager that just felt like crawling into a ball and disappearing (whether the dramatics were warranted or not). Then Olive’s love was able to pull him out of his spiral. There were tears!
One relationship I really enjoyed watching was Dwayne and Steve Carell’s character, Frank. Typically I see Steve Carell as Michael Scott, manager of Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton Branch (I am one of those guilty of rewatching that series over and over again. Boyfriend and I are actually working on rewatching it right now). Or Brick Tamland in Anchorman. I think the fact that Steve Carell was in the movie was one of the reasons Boyfriend picked it out. He’s always down to watch Michael Scott.
I didn’t even know that he was in this movie before watching it, but he was an unforgettable character. Apart from being the first to realize that Olive had not made it back in the van after making a gas station stop (So relatable! My family still laughs at the time we forgot my brother at McDonald’s), Frank provides an objective voice throughout this family’s road trip. He can relate to Dwyane, and can take the dark jokes and comments made about his attempted suicide. I cringe along with him when he ran into the graduate student who dumped him while buying Grandpa’s porn magazines (the graduate student looked like a tool. Frank was better off without him). Just as we could all relate to a teenager’s world crashing down on them, we relate to Frank’s break-up and career set back; we could put ourselves in his shoes and understand how he was feeling (though I hope most of us were not driven to a suicide attempt like Frank was). The movie also did a great job during the dinner scene where Olive asked about Frank’s bandages. Her innocent curiosity and Franks honest answers were close to perfection.
Which brings me to the star of the movie, Abigail Breslin. I haven’t seen a movie where I didn’t absolutely love this girl. Before Little Miss Sunshine, I had recently watched Perfect Sisters (GREAT movie. Highly recommend it. Used to be on Netflix, not sure if it’s still there, though). I have also seen Signs and Zombieland multiple times (and in case you haven’t heard, they are filming a Zombieland 2!!) She is a talented actress and she played the pudgy awkward Olive Hoover wonderfully. Olive really was the sunshine in the Hoover family. Her optimism was contagious and she had everyone wrapped around her little finger (not in a manipulative sort of way, but in a way that she didn’t really know about). She would be the only one the whole family would drop what they were doing and take a 700 mile road trip for. The family had to push the van to get it started every time they stopped. They hid Grandpa’s body in the back of their car. All to get Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant.
At this pageant we finally get to see the dance Olive and Grandpa had been working tirelessly on and I was not disappointed (I’m not sure what I was expecting, but her actual dance was not on my radar). Boyfriend’s exact words were “Little girls shouldn’t be dancing to such nasty music, but I kind of enjoyed the dance.” I think he summed up her dance nicely. She was a girl who beat to the sound of her own drum and she had the family to back her up. Nothing was going to stop Olive when she put her mind to it. It’s an admirable quality and fun to watch in the seven-year-old.
This movie led me through an array of emotions. There was laughing (Olive staying watch while the family shoved Grandpa’s body out the hospital window), frustration and anger (Anytime Richard opened his mouth), and crying (Dwayne).
Boyfriend had only seen parts of the movie when he was younger and he didn’t like it. He remembered the movie not being funny and he didn’t understand the plot. All the problems he had with the movie, though, must have been because he was a kid. This time around he loved it. He liked how every character had their own flaw and at the end they all came together as a family. A family that makes a fool of themselves together is the family that will stay together!
Little Miss Sunshine was one of those movies I had heard of, wanted to watch, but never got around to it. This bucket list was the final push I needed to sit down and actually watch this movie and I am glad that I did. What is not to love about a relatable family going on a road trip in a yellow VW van?
Boyfriend had nixed my first pick of a movie and decided on Little Miss Sunshine (no complaints from my end!), so I took my turn to pick with this next movie. This was one that I had seen before (or so I thought), but Boyfriend had not. There were so many iconic scenes and the twist ending won’t be a surprise because it is an older one (black and white old). So Boyfriend and I both know how this next movie will end, but we’ll sit down and enjoy the journey to the shocking ending anyway.