Little Miss Sunshine written by Michael Arndt was one of those movies that I’ve always seen pictures of or heard references to that I thought were cute, but never actually got around to see. Anyone who knows me knows that’s true of most movies, but I digress. The film follows Olive and her family on a “Griswold-Esque” road trip so she can compete in the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant, both because of her family’s support, and also to spite it.
I always knew I was going to enjoy it, but it was the actual sitting down to watch it that was hard. It’s been around for as long as I can remember, but I was shocked to see that this film was made in 2006 because of the picture quality, but it truly adds to the charm, so I’ll let it slide just this once.
I will say, it was really something to see Steve Carrel play a character with any semblance of emotional intelligence, he knocked it out of the park. I’ll take the mentally-ill gay uncle over Michael Scott ANY day (I would also take getting punched in the gut by the Incredible Hulk over Michael Scott any day. I’m not an Office fan.) This character from the get-go was one that never infantilized Olive, which he earns points for in the absolutely meaningless game of “Does Harmony Respect This Character/Person?” From the get-go, Frank always kept it real with Olive, but on her own terms. He never kept anything about his mental illness or his suicide attempt from her, which in my opinion was a great beginning to the film. It set up that Olive can actually handle the complex themes that come up in the movie, even though sometimes she didn’t necessarily react the way we think she should because of her authenticity. For example, later in the movie when she dedicates her dance to her grandpa (an icon, may he rest in peace) and says that he’s in the trunk of the van. She understands he’s dead, but she was asked where he was by that creepy child beauty pageant emcee, so she told him.
The entire family rallied together to support this special little girl, and what made her so special was the fact that she was so unapologetically and authentically herself. Over the course of the film, Olive chose to be faithful to her dream over all obstacles, including her jerk father.
That guy was a real piece of work, let me tell ya’. If he and Michael Scott were in the same room, and I could only punch one of them, I would still choose Michael Scott, but I would hesitate. The father was so insecure and slimy, he followed his ambition down the path of… a life coach? Gross! He then had the audacity to tell his little girl- who was a qualifier for the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant, thank you very much- that she would get fat and not be able to be a beauty queen if she ate ice cream. If he is so offended by a child eating chocolate ice cream, then he’s going to be really affronted when he hears what I think he should eat. He can follow his nine steps right off a cliff for all I care. Yeah, at the end of the movie he actually realizes his loser-ness but only then does he step up for his daughter. All this to say, Greg Kinnear did a great job as the antagonist of the movie if I had such a visceral gut reaction to him. Almost too great a job. It makes one suspicious.
A moment that stood out to me was when Dwayne, the emo mute older brother played by Paul Dano, finds out he’s color blind and therefore can’t fulfill his lifelong dream of being a fighter pilot. We’ve all been there: on the metaphorical side of the road after having a panic attack because you’ve been in close proximity to your family too long. After his mom tried to comfort him, he told his entire family off, and although maybe some of it was a little uncalled for, it wasn’t entirely out of pocket. The only thing that calmed him down was a hug from his little sister Olive, which I think says a whole heck of a lot about her as a character.
Olive’s mother Sheryl, played by Toni Collette, was the least problematic character of the entire film, other than Little Miss Sunshine herself. Due to that, I really have nothing to say about her other than I love her and she deserves better than Motivational Mike. Or should I call him Loser Larry? Or maybe Dead-Beat Dylan? Either way, she was too good to be supporting him when she was already carrying the weight of the entire family on her back.
Last but not least: Grandpa (an icon, may he rest in peace.) He had his flaws, he was pervy and addicted to heroin, but he was Olive’s biggest supporter and best friend. Even when he was telling Dwayne he needed to rack up a body count while he was still in his teens, he made sure to protect Olive from his own terrible teachings. Poor Dwayne.
Overall, I really enjoyed the film! I think everyone should watch it at least once if only to understand the references. Even though I personally struggle to accept happy family movies, this is one that gets it right: that your family is your best friend and your worst nightmare. It’s a double-edged sword, but it will protect you when a crazy pageant lady comes to shoo you from the stage with a cane vaudeville style.