Funny, touching, familiar, strange, political and personal, Little Miss Sunshine is a film of half a dozen adjectives. Chuck in, if you must, those well-worn platitudes of ‘charming’, ‘feelgood’ and (eurgh) ‘quirky’, and the picture is half painted. It’s a road movie, a family drama and an impressively accomplished feature debut from music video directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. It’s the emotional fillip of the year.
Telling of the dysfunctional Hoover family’s journey from Albuquerque to LA to enter their bespectacled, pot-bellied daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) into the eponymous Barbie doll pageant, the film’s strength lies in its characters. From Breslin’s innocence to Alan Arkin as her coke-snorting Grandpa (“I can say what I want, I still got Nazi bullets in my ass”); from Paul Dano as troubled teen Dwayne, who’s taken a vow of silence until he makes the Air Force, to Greg Kinnear as beaten-down dad Richard and Toni Collette as struggling mum Sheryl – everyone comes with their own back story, their own agenda, their own charisma.
Top of the lot though is Steve Carell. Playing Frank, Sheryl’s suicidal brother and the US’ top Proust scholar – a gay man who’s just lost the love of his life to the country’s second best Proust scholar – he cements his growing reputation as America’s funniest man. It’s in the deadpan delivery (“So you stopped talking because of Friedrich Nietzsche?”) and moments of sadness, followed by relief, joy even, found in the little things in life. Oscar probably won’t recognise him (it is a glowy comedy, after all), but the man deserves a nod.
In truth, as the Hoovers reach their destination and enter the fray of the sickly contest – all little, little girls being forced to grow up far too fast – Little Miss Sunshine loses some of its travelling speed (indeed, with four alternate endings on the DVD, it seems the directors were struggling with the wrap). But this is a minor quibble for the sleeper movie of the summer, one that picked up $59 million at the US box-office. Add ‘successful’, then, to that list at the top. Oh, and charming. And feelgood...