So the road dramedy Little Miss Sunshine will probably bring back memories, especially if your grandpa sniffed heroin, your dad was a struggling motivational speaker, your gay suicidal uncle was the foremost Proust scholar in the country and your brother was a Nietzsche-obsessed teenager who hadn't spoken in three months. Sound like an ensemble that' too quirky for its own good? Maybe so, but it' almost impossible not to fall for Sunshine' abnormal yet ultimately wholesome charms.
Before they hop in their rickety Volkswagen, we first see the Hoover family in the midst of a chaotic rush to sit down for a chicken-from-a-bucket dinner. Once settled, they weave through a series of conversations that speaks volumes about each character. Richard (Greg Kinnear), the father, goes on and on about the overwhelming importance of being a winner. Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) explains that he tried to kill himself because his boyfriend slept with the second-best American Proust scholar. And the ever-silent Dwayne (Paul Dano) communicates through scrawling angst-ridden messages on a notepad (e.g.: "I hate everybody"). Oh, and Grandpa (Alan Arkin) is there too, higher than Keith Richards at an opium convention.
The only untainted Hoover is 7 year-old Olive, the daughter in the family and unlikely beauty pageant contestant (not that she' ugly or fat exactly, but, you know, it wouldn't hurt her to take an interest in her appearance). So her late acceptance into the Little Miss Sunshine competition in Redondo Beach, Calif. comes as a huge surprise. Even more so for Uncle Frank, Grandpa and the rest, who unexpectedly have to travel there from Albuquerque, NM.
Surprisingly enough, much of the comedy doesn't come from Carell, who offers up a full-bodied character with more neuroses than punch lines. The pussy-chasing, drug-sniffing Grandpa, rather, provides most of the laugh out loud moments. In the van, he urges the teenage Dwayne to fuck as many girls as possible and argues that when you're old and have nothing else to live for, you have no reason not to be perpetually stoned. Other humorous scenes are book ended with truly disturbing or sad ones, giving the film a Welcome to the Dollhouse-meets- National Lampoon' Vacation sensibility.
Before directing Sunshine, the team of Valerie Faris and Jonathon Dayton made a splash with music videos and rock docs, as well as that haunting VW commercial set to Nick Drake' "Pink Moon." For this project, the duo' aims seem to straddle the high-minded indie and blockbuster comedy worlds. And that' not a bad thing. The often-inconsistent tone furnishes Sunshine with a pleasantly shaky pace that echoes the condition of the family' busted hippiemobile.
By the time they arrive in Redondo Beach, the Hoovers are bruised (in every way) and only a little better off than they were in New Mexico. Upon seeing Olive' prim and glossy competition, they come to realize the atrocious vanity and pointlessness of the whole pageant. Clearly, these people of disparate worldviews have a decision to make: should they let her go on stage and face severe judgment, or pull her out in the name of morality?
Though what ends up unfolding veers towards the implausible, you'll find yourself rooting for togetherness, understanding, compassion and all that shit that makes us spit up bile into our black-as-death espressos. If for no other reason, go see Little Miss Sunshine because it might just make your family seem like delightful company.