Billed as a “tragicomedy road film”, Little Miss Sunshine is an oddly unique film. With a cast consisting of Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, and Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine backs its singular comedic tone with a talented group of actors.
A film that’s every bit as funny as it is touching, Little Miss Sunshine quickly starts striking all the right chords in its earliest scenes. With Abigail Breslin’s relentlessly upbeat and impossibly adorable Olive driving much of the film’s plot, Little Miss Sunshine sees the Hoover family set off on a road trip to take her to the titular pageant.
As well as Olive, there’s Paul Dano’s (mostly) silent Dwayne treating his family with a distinct lack of respect, Steve Carell’s hopelessly depressed Uncle Frank tagging along for the ride, and the foul-mouthed Grandpa Edwin refusing to censor himself. Rounding out the cast as Olive’s parents are Toni Collette’s well-meaning but thoroughly disinterested Sheryl, and Greg Kinnear’s deeply self-involved and often outright unpleasant Richard.
Each character brings a different aspect to the film, with Dano, Carell, and Arkin delivering most of the humor and Breslin handling the more touching moments. Every actor utilizes their talents perfectly to bring Little Miss Sunshine to life, with Carell in particular delivering an outstanding performance as the unhappy, unbalanced Frank.
Little Miss Sunshine‘s brand of comedy is both dark and deadpan, and it’s all the more funny for it. In between the laughs, though, it’s a deeply touching film with a universal message of (non)conformity and self-appreciation.
With a relatively short runtime, Little Miss Sunshine is paced excellently, and addresses its deeper themes without feeling like a slog. Despite a handful of riskier moments, the film exudes a sense of innocence, thanks in no small part to Breslin’s portrayal of the adorable Olive.
One of Little Miss Sunshine‘s only weaker points is in its handling of Olive’s father, Richard. Throughout the film’s first act, Richard is deeply unpleasant and superficial, and actually makes a point of forcing harmful opinions on his children. Despite this, Little Miss Sunshine offers him third-act redemption, which – despite the character suffering two second-act tragedies – hardly feels deserved.
That said, Little Miss Sunshine‘s conclusion is both realistic and triumphantly satisfying, culminating with an unforgettable beauty pageant scene that pays off a joke about Olive’s unseen routine that runs throughout the entire film.
Little Miss Sunshine is a heartwarming story that is a touching, if not uplifting, tale of coming to terms with ourselves as individuals. Made all the better by its talented cast, it’s an unforgettably sweet film.
Summary: Little Miss Sunshine‘s deeper message is one of positivity, despite the black comedy that the film has to offer. It’s a film elevated by its talented cast, who make it by turns hilarious and sweet.
Highlights: Olive’s routine during the beauty pageant is one of cinema’s greatest cringe-inducers, despite being a moment of profound triumph.