Throwback Thursday: ‘Little Miss Sunshine’

By Stephanie Brandhuber

This week marks the 10th anniversary of one of the most genuine, funny, and heartfelt family dramedy’s there is, the ever-poignant Little Miss Sunshine.

In 2006, when the film was released, I was in my mid-teens and attempting to deal with an incredibly dysfunctional family situation. Seeing the Hoovers on screen in all their flawed and imperfect glory really spoke to me as a young girl, and even now, a decade later, I still find myself drawn into the loving embrace of this wacky screen-family’s warmth and innate affection for one another.

little-miss-sunshine-inside car

The movie itself was a small, unlikely success. Little Miss Sunshine revolves around the Hoovers who embark on a chaotic road trip from New Mexico to California in a wonky, yellow Volkswagen bus in order to get the family’s young daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) to the titular Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. The cast includes Toni Collette who plays Sheryl, the overworked mom who seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown at any given moment, Greg Kinnear, Olive’s father, who is a failing motivational speaker with an obsession for winning and forced optimism, Paul Dano as Dwayne, Olive’s Nietzsche-obsessed older brother who has taken a vow of silence until he becomes a test pilot, Steve Carell as the suicidal uncle, and last but not least Alan Arkin who plays Edwin, Olive’s heroin-addict grandfather who also happens to be his granddaughter’s pageant coach.

Little Miss Sunshine is subtly hilarious, and overwhelmingly warm in its portrayal of an ordinary family dealing with the everyday ups and downs that life has such a twisted way of throwing at us. Sure, we may not all have a suicidal uncle whose life is dedicated to Proust, or a leather-wearing grandfather who casually snorts coke, but the disjointed, weird, inner-family rollercoaster of emotions is something that most people can relate to, making Little miss Sunshine universal in its enjoyment.

This movie is also an incredible time-capsule of future talent, showcasing spectacular performances by Dano and Breslin before they became globally famous for their skilful acting. At this point in time too, Steve Carell was still relatively unknown but showed us, of course, that he has the mastery to deliver an emotional yet truly comedic performance.

little-missn-sunshine olive mirror

Little Miss Sunshine is funny without being over-the-top, and its comedy never feels forced. It is very much about family and dealing with the quirks and demands that come with living as a familial unit, but the family-film trope is never laid on too heavily. The characters are complex and multi-faceted, making us want to learn more about them and be given glimpses into their inner complications. Michael Ardnt’s script is honest, witty, and deeply humorous. The best scene of the film also happens to be its climax, when Olive finally gets to perform her routine that she has been practising with her grandfather for the big finale of the beauty pageant. To this day this scene remains one of my most treasured magical movie-moments and it never fails to make me laugh and smile with pure joy. 

I have no doubt that Little Miss Sunshine will continue to live on in people’s hearts thanks to its honesty and its bravery in not shying away from depicting a dysfunctional family. It shines a light on the everyday-ness of mental health, showing how all of us, at any given time, have to deal with our own personal demons and moments of fragility. Little Miss Sunshine does this in a way that breathes fresh air into the often overlooked aspects of depression and inner turmoil that can affect us all, but doing so in a way that is never self-pitying. Instead, each of the family members’ fragilities are used to unite them in order to make them stronger, giving them a sense of unity and self-purpose. If there’s a message to be taken from this glorious film, it’s that sometimes you just have to keep on pushing forward, for better or worse, and stand tall and proud with those you consider your family. And sometimes, if all else fails, you just have to let your  super freak flag fly. 

5 Stars (5 / 5)

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(Photos copyright: Fox Searchlight Pictures, Big Beach Films, Bona Fide Productions, Deep River Productions, Third Gear Productions )

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