The Oscar Project
We have passed the mid-way point of January and today I’m giving you my thoughts on a wonderful film, my low budget, big box office movie, Little Miss Sunshine. Like last week, I used the list provided earlier in the week from Collider to pick my film.
This was one of those films that flew a bit under my radar at the time it came out. To be fair, I was about to get married at the time, so I had a few other things on my mind, and I just never came back to it.
What amazed me about this film is how well the entire cast worked together and the level of stardom many of them have obtained since this film released. Don’t get me wrong, Alan Arkin was a household name long before this film and has continued to star in blockbusters, most recently in Minions: The Rise of Gru. Steve Carrell was on the rise in 2006 following supporting roles in films like Bruce Almighty and Anchorman, combined with a lead role in The Office and 40 Year Old Virgin. It was with 40 Year Old Virgin that his stardom really took off and he was seen as a leading man in Hollywood. I don’t think Greg Kinnear has obtained quite this level of stardom, but Toni Collette has consistently popped up in great films over the years and I always love watching her perform on screen.
Apart from the excellent cast, this film is just so relatable. The family in question is in terrible shape, to be quite honest. Richard (Kinnear) is hustling super hard to sell a motivational program he’s developed. It’s something he’s super passionate about, and he really believes in it, but he just can’t seem to get anyone else to buy in. His wife Sheryl (Collette) is trying to keep the family together, dealing with her rambunctious daughter Olive (Breslin), her moody teen Dwayne (Dano), and on top of that, her brother Frank who just tried to commit suicide (Carell). The cherry on top is of course Arkin’s foul-mouthed Grandpa with a heart of gold. What I’m saying is, regardless of what your situation is in life, you can probably find someone in this film to relate to.
At its core, this film is a family road trip movie. We’ve seen this before, perhaps best done in National Lampoon’s Vacation. But while that film is truly about the comedy and the gags, Little Miss Sunshine feels so much more like a real family. Both films feature a beat-up old vehicle that might not make the trip. The family dynamics are nearly identical (father, mother, brother, sister, elderly relative) with the only addition here being uncle Frank. The differences are where this film really starts to shine though.
While Clark Griswold sets off on his family’s vacation to force them to have a good time at Wally World, the Hoover family sets off on their journey to help little Olive fulfill her dream of being in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California (hence the title). Yes, Dwayne and Frank are initially quite resistant to the idea, but the pair ultimately come to understand each other while setting aside their preconceived notions about each other.
**Some spoilers ahead**
Both films feature the death of the elderly character, but again, the differences make this film so much better. In Vacation, Aunt Edna’s death is played almost entirely for laughs. There is a bit of mourning for her, but not much before Clark straps her to the roof and continue with their trip. On the other hand, we learn of Grandpa Hoover’s passing from Olive as she wakes her parents up at the hotel with the simple line “Grandpa won’t wake up.” Even before the scenes cuts to an ambulance rushing him to the hospital and the scene in the waiting room, you know instinctively that he’s gone and wonder how they can continue the trip. Now, for those who have seen the film, yes there is some comedy in how they got Grandpa out of the hospital so that they CAN continue, but not before they’ve had a chance to weigh the options and determine that Grandpa would want them to get Olive to the pageant.
While I’m making comparisons to similar films, there is a moment when the family rushes to get back on the road after stopping at a gas station for a break. Richard and Sheryl argue after Richard gets off the phone with his business partner and learns that his program won’t sell. The family gets in the van quickly and pushes it onto the road, completely forgetting Olive in the process. After some time on the road there is a moment when Dwayne and Frank realize Olive’s not in the van that feels reminiscent of Kate McCallister yelling “KEVIN!” on the plane in Home Alone. But even with this similarity, it’s big brother Dwayne who first realizes his sister is missing and even though he’s panicked about it, he still doesn’t break his silence, instead writing the question “Where’s Olive?” on his paper and showing it to Frank. The family immediately turns around to get her and resume the team effort to get her to the pageant on time.
I picked this film this week as one that I have heard about many times but never saw. Fortunately, I hadn’t heard enough to spoil it. I absolutely loved the ending, especially since I have a personal disdain for pageants like the one in the film (the pageants mind you, not the girls themselves). I had a feeling that Grandpa’s choreography for Olive’s dance routine wasn’t going to be the typical pageant fair, but even that exceeded my expectations. Dwayne fulfills his role as the protective older brother, trying to keep her from performing because she’s nothing like any of the other pageant girls. Richard fulfills the supportive father role by telling the pageant organizer that Olive is “kicking ass” when asked what she was doing on stage. And the whole family solidifies their bonds by joining Olive on stage and giving the pageant a collective middle finger, including Grandpa since he set up the dance in the first place.
I’m so glad I got to watch this film. It is an absolutely gem and the only thing I don’t like about it is that I waited this long to finally check it out!
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?