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Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Wheres Olive?

Directed by:

Jonathan Dayton

Valerie Faris

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 101 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

“Everybody just pretend to be normal, okay,” Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) begs when the horn on their discombobulated VW bus won’t cease its inexorable honking. To the Hoover family—a heroin-addicted grandfather (Alan Arkin), a Nietzche-obsessed son with self-imposed muteness (Paul Dano), a Proust scholar uncle (Steve Carrell) on post-suicide watch, a pacifist mother (Toni Collette), and a naively innocent seven year old (Abigail Breslin)—normal is anything but… This dark comedy follows the madcap cross-country journey of Richard, Grandpa, Dwayne, Frank, Sheryl, and Olive Hoover who take to the road (flying is too costly, pending dad’s rise to Tony Robbins fame…) in pursuit of pageant glory.

The offbeat pilgrimage to the Little Miss Sunshine competition is the film’s driving force. It creates great conflicts which are oddly poignant and hilariously wacky. These bumps in the road reveal each character’s true mettle, such as Olive’s resilience, Richard’s potential, and Dwayne’s love.

Arkin’s Grandpa projects crass incorrigibility, but he skillfully manages to pepper the curse-laden performance with surprising tender moments. Especially in scenes with Breslin, with whom chemistry is tangible, the depraved octogenarian shines as a deeply loving and wise champion. Breslin’s portrayal of gawky, awkward Olive gives her character admirable, albeit self-oblivious courage. She is unaware of the breadth to which she lacks stereotypical pageant qualities. You will root for her, even when cringing.

Uncle Frank’s humiliation when an unrequited love catches him buying pornographic magazines (Grandpa’s requested reading) also stings—Carrell’s subtle expression of agony is believable. Also noteworthy is Dano’s scene in which Dwayne learns of his own life-altering weakness. He succinctly projects the isolation of a defenseless, wounded animal. Ironically, the film’s true message is inconspicuously revealed in this scene on a faded sign in the background: United We Stand.

Sadly, Collette’s performance is unmemorable and this is a little distracting, as it feels like her character’s role in the Hoover family requires more of an identity.

While the filming often has a hand-held video camera effect, some shots out of the bus window create overly long lags in the story’s progress.

If you like bizarre indie films with surprising characters or if you enjoy peculiar, unchartered journeys that have heart and lots of profanity (again, Grandpa), embrace “normal” a la Hoover. Let the Sunshine in!

It's Got: including the VW bus that steals many scenes, it has three dimensional, interesting characters.

It Needs: A little bit of editing in between family interactions.

Alternatives:

About a Boy, National Lampoon's Vacation.

Summary

A uniquely flawed family of outcasts embarks on a road trip that leads them to an unlikely destination.

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