I’ll be the first to admit, I am a big fan of the sub-genre of quirky and angst ridden comedies. I don’t get to see them hardly as much as I’d like because they are few and far between, and hardly get played in my region anyways. After Little Miss Sunshine made it to the top of my Netflix list, it ceremoniously was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, which seemed hardly coincidental.
Even though the nomination might lead you to expect that it is a complex film with overly complex themes, as Best Picture nominees usually are, Little Miss Sunshine hardly fits this category. Although the characters are slightly complex and their layers become peeled off as the film progresses, the basic premise is pretty simple. A non-traditional family from Albuquerque lays aside the troubles of their life for a while, while they help young Olive reach Los Angeles to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant.
As comedies of this nature are wont to be, the film is largely character driven. Each member of the family is fully fleshed out in the opening scenes of the film, yet we learn more and more about them as they get closer to L.A. in their cute yellow VW bus which is almost a character in of itself. There’s the suicidal and scholarly uncle, the grandpa who has given up on longevity and has in unapologetic nature taken on several vices in his twilight, the teenage brother who has taken a vow of silence until he enlists in the Air Force, the overworked and unattended mom, and the overzealous dad who would probably find better work as a high school football coach. As expected, they hardly get along. The only duo who at least identify with each other is the uncle and the teenage brother assigned to protect him from himself. They seem to understand and emphasize each other and form a close brotherhood, even though the brother still claims he hates everyone.
He’s a long way home from the Daily Show, but Steve Carell still steals the show.
Each part of the family has their own faults, which slowly get drug out on their ride to the pageant. But along for the ride is the only source of innocence, Olive, who somehow manages to stay sane throughout the film. Even though this description of the film constructs it as something entirely different than a comedy, it still remains truly funny. One of the most poignant scenes is where the grandpa explicitly tells the brother he needs to “love as many women as (he) can”, at which point Olive takes her head out of her CD player headphones to ask what they are talking about. “Politics”, he says.
Even though it sometimes struggles to be something more than “National Lampoon’s Pageant Vacation” throughout the middle, the film and the charecters in it find real heart that’s not out of place in a Pixar film once they find real trouble and finally band together. The true climax is at the end, which I won’t spoil, where a scene of sheer oddness hits you right in the face of how metaphoric it is. And it somehow manages to do this fleetingly without beating you over the head with the point again and again.
Little Miss Sunshine is a perfect family film, although it is definitely suited to a more weathered and adult audience. If there’s any fault to the film, it’s that younger audiences in line with the age of Olive can’t really see it and understand it due to some of the more adult themes and language sprinkled sparingly throughout. But once they are of age, it’s a treasure.