Film: Little Miss Sunshine

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Little Miss Sunshine

Director: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox

Take a hilarious ride with the Hoovers, one of the most endearingly fractured families in comedy history.

Father Richard (Greg Kinnear) is desperately trying to sell his motivational success program...with no success. Meanwhile, “pro-honesty” mom Sheryl (Toni Collette) lends support to her eccentric family, including her depressed brother (Steve Carell), fresh out of the hospital after being jilted by his lover. Then there are the younger Hoovers: the seven-year-old, would-be beauty queen Olive (Abigail Breslin) and Dwayne (Paul Dano), a Nietzsche-reading teen who has taken a vow of silence. Topping off the family is the foul-mouthed grandfather (Alan Arkin), whose outrageous behavior recently got him evicted from his retirement home.

When Olive is invited to compete in the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant in far-off California, the family piles into their rusted-out VW bus to rally behind her with riotously funny results.


Pile together a blue-ribbon cast, a screenplay high in quirkiness, and the Sundance stamp of approval, and you’ve got yourself a crossover indie hit. That formula worked for Little Miss Sunshine, a frequently hilarious study of family dysfunction. Meet the Hoovers, an Albuquerque clan riddled with depression, hostility, and the tattered remnants of the American Dream; despite their flakiness, they manage to pile into a VW van for a weekend trek to L.A. in order to get moppet daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) into the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Much of the pleasure of this journey comes from watching some skillful comic actors doing their thing: Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette as the parents (he’s hoping to become a self-help authority), Alan Arkin as a grandfather all too willing to give uproariously inappropriate advice to a sullen teenage grandson (Paul Dano), and a subdued Steve Carell as a jilted gay professor on the verge of suicide. The film is a crowd-pleaser, and if anything is a little too eager to bend itself in the direction of quirk-loving Sundance audiences; it can feel forced. But the breezy momentum and the ingenious actors help push the material over any bumps in the road.—Robert Horton

Barnes & Noble

Arguably the box-office sleeper of 2006, Little Miss Sunshine finds its big laughs by zeroing in on one of the most engaging dysfunctional families ever brought to the screen. At seven years of age, preternaturally ambitious Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) is fixated on beauty contests, and she's elated when she qualifies to enter one. For a variety of reasons, getting to the pageant site promises to be a Herculean task the family reluctantly undertakes: Usually optimistic dad Richard (Greg Kinnear) is in the dumps due to business woes; seriously depressed uncle Frank (Steve Carell) is recovering from a suicide attempt; chronically angry brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) has taken a vow of silence; generally supportive mom Sheryl (Toni Collette) worries that Olive is setting herself up for a crushing disappointment; and foul-mouthed grandpa Edwin has a bit of a drug problem. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris lavish their attention on the road trip -- a lengthy, obstacle-filled journey that tests the Hoovers and ultimately unites the family behind its youngest member. What makes this modest masterpiece outshine similarly plotted films like National Lampoon’s Vacation is its emphasis on character rather than gags. The acting is of uniformly high caliber, with Carell a standout as a Proust scholar whose reputation and relationship have simultaneously gone down the drain; his is a carefully calibrated and restrained performance. Blending its bite with brains and heart, Little Miss Sunshine comes out a winner. Ed Hulse

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