“Little Miss Sunshine” was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture in 2006. To use the word refreshing seems out of place for a movie whose subject is a dysfunctional family, but that is exactly the description that fits this film. The mother Sheryl, played by Toni Collette, appears to be the only family member who does not have issues. Little Olive, who wants desperately to win a beauty contest, is more a victim of the dysfunction rather than a participant.
Little Miss Sunshine
We are introduced to Sheryl's husband Richard (played by Greg Kinnear) who is going through bankruptcy. To fill up his time, Richard is attempting to sell his latest venture, The Nine-Step Method to Success. Their adolescent son Dwayne is going through a stage of not speaking which he learned about by reading Nietsche. His goal is to be a jet pilot and he plans to remain silent until he is accepted for training. Sheryl’s brother, Uncle Frank (Steve Carell), came to stay with the family permanently after he attempted suicide when his long-time lover left him. Then we have Grandpa Edwin, a cocaine snorter, played by Alan Arkin who won an Academy Award for his supporting role in “Little Miss Sunshine.”
When Olive, played by Abigail Breslin, wins a spot in a beauty pageant in California, the family felt that she should have her chance to follow her dream. However, none of the family members is trusted to stay home alone; therefore, the entire family piles in together in their Volkswagen bus to support Olive. Grandpa has given lessons to Olive so that she can be successful in the dance portion of the contest.
The trip requires a long drive from Albuquerque to California. Regrettably, on the first day of the trip the Volkswagen bus developed a quirk which forced the family to push the bus for several hundred feet in order to start the ignition each time. The viewer becomes accustomed to seeing each of the pushers run for the door as the engine starts and the bus starts to move slowly away. Grandpa reaches out his hand to give each one a lift into the bus.
To keep herself occupied on the long drive, Olive brought along games and puzzles, one of which tests the player on whether he/she is color-blind. Dwayne, who wants to be a jet pilot, fails the test and learns for the first time that he is color-blind. This condition automatically excludes an applicant from being a pilot. With his hopes dashed, Dwayne is devastated and refuses to go on further. Olive is finally able to persuade him to stay with the group.
When the family ultimately reaches California, we are given a preview of the beautiful little girls who want to become Little Miss Sunshine. I failed to mention that Olive is not the prettiest girl; in fact, she has very little to qualify her as the winner. Her family is apparently unaware of her limitations. When her turn comes to show her dancing skills - coached by her grandfather - chaos breaks loose in the audience as she does the bumps and grinds that she has learned from Grandpa. Needless to say, the family is forced to promise that they will never return to California again to try out for its famous beauty contest.
As we get to know each family member, we are drawn into the story, rooting for each of them, not just for Olive and her quest for fame. One of the most enjoyable movies I have viewed this year, “Little Miss Sunshine” is entertainment for the entire family. Get yourself the DVD and invite your family to view it with you.