This is my “newest favorite movie.” By that, I mean than no movie in the past three (going on four) years has been as great as this. As I explained to my husband earlier, Raiders of the Lost Ark is still my all time favorite, but if I were to meet a physical embodiment of the film, I would high-five Indiana Jones and give the yellow VW from Little Miss Sunshine a great big hug. That’s just how they differ in my heart.
Little Miss Sunshine is the story of a modern family consisting of a mom Sheryl (Toni Collette), dad Richard (Greg Kinnear), brother Dwayne (Paul Dano), grandpa (Alan Arkin), little Olive (Abigail Breslin) and Uncle Frank (Steve Carell). Of course there’s more to them than that, they all have their vices. Except for little Olive, who’s just gotten word that she’s in the running for Little Miss Sunshine in California. To see her dreams come true, her whole family will drive in a yellow VW buss for eight hundred miles.
A family road trip can be a defining moment in someone’s life, huh? Well, not everyone can relate to having three generations in one vehicle. My family drives from Indiana to Florida every winter, sometimes with grandma. Being the oldest of three, I sometimes felt that I was in the gay uncle position (feeling out of place for a while, then egging on needless conversations for entertainment and offering my advice to the younger ones). But in the end, it’s not always about the destination, but what we learned and lived through on the way.
The nucleus of this story is little Olive. She’s so cute, sweet and innocent, everyone wants to protect her. But the bitter truth is there’s only so much they can do. She’s exposed to beauty pageants by her aunt (which is before the film ever begins). Her grandpa shows her “these moves” and constantly swears. Even when her parents think they’re doing and saying the right things, little Olive can pick up signals, (“Why is everyone upset?”). One of the great things about this film is the fact that we will always expose kids to really fucked up things (not on purpose, of course), but as long as we keep that family unit and support the youngest generation, they’ll probably turn out all right. With luck, they might not realize just how messed up everything was around them until they’re older.
Now, Little Miss Sunshine was given the R rating, making it dreadful to parents and more enticing to their children. Please, if you were to cut out all but one of the fucks this would be PG-13. In fact, I encourage this to be a family time movie. I don’t mean round up your five year old and send them to pre-school with their new favorite phrase, “God damn fucking chicken!” Here’s a good rule of thumb that may open the eyes of a few parents: if you’ve ever let your child watch South Park or anything from the Family Guy realm, Little Miss Sunshine is perfectly fine. The sexual references in either of those cartoons are way more explicit than Grandpa saying he had “second degree burns on his Johnson.” As for the unedited fucks, please, they’re barely edited out of those cartoons and your kids can figure out what they are (word gets around schools, by age eight or so). The worst thing is a little thrill from hearing that famous word so clear.
At the Oscars Little Miss Sunshine was nominated for four awards and took home two. It was beat out for best picture and Abigail Breslin’s nomination for best supporting actress, but took home top honors in original screenplay and Alan Arkin won best supporting actor. Not bad for that little indie film from Sundance.
I could gush on this film for hours, but the two things that I believe make this film so wonderful and heartwarming is its sense of timing and showing the strength of a family unit. Take that first dinner scene, as conversation grows, it’s edited perfectly so we see a specific person’s face react to what the other is saying. When Uncle Frank is explaining his reasons for suicide, it’s directed mostly to Olive, but we see Richard’s disapproving face and Grandpa blows his nose at the perfect spot to get some awkward laughs from the audience.
Well, that doesn’t sound like a strong family does it? Remember, that’s only the beginning. By the time they roll onto Redondo Beach they’ve faced a broken clutch, heartbreaks and over eight hundred miles together. To get their beloved VW going the whole family has to push it. What a family exercise! When everyone’s safe inside with mission accomplished their blood and adrenaline is pumping and there’s that sense of accomplishment. Even Uncle Frank is all smiles shouting, “No one gets left behind!”
I dare you to find a better family film. The Griswold family never had such heartwarming laughs or faced such heartbreaking events and they drove twice as far. Little Miss Sunshine is what a family road trip is all about and once you open your heart to it you might be surprised at what it has to say.
“-You do what you love, and fuck the rest.
-I’m glad you’re talking again, Dwayne. You’re not nearly as stupid as you look.”