Apr 20

“Little Miss Sunshine”: The Pleasure of Their Dysfunction

In my opinion, perhaps the most loveable dysfunctional family ever on film is that of Little Miss Sunshine (2006).

Sheryl Hoover (Toni Collette), a harried chain-smoking mom, invites her suicidal intellectual gay brother Frank (Steve Carell) to stay with her and her family. Her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a wannabe self-help guru—who’s unsuccessful himself. Son Dwayne (Paul Dano) currently isn’t speaking. Grandpop Edwin (Alan Arkin) is addicted to heroin and was ousted from his elder care facility.

And that leaves seven-year-old chubby and bubbly Olive (Abigail Breslin), who just wants to win a beauty pageant—and isn’t really cut out for such things.

One could argue that all of the family members in Little Miss Sunshine should be in therapy—separately, together, whatever—but of course they aren’t. Instead, they’re all taking a road trip—in support of Olive’s dream.

Below, the trailer:

Selected Reviews

James Berardinelli, ReelViews: “It takes a deft hand to fashion a feel-good movie with plenty of laughs and an upbeat ending out of a story that includes drug addiction, a suicide attempt, a death, Nietzsche, and Proust.”

Dana Stevens, Slate: “If anything, the recent film it most recalls is You Can Count on Me (2000), another small treasure about a fractured family that managed to be moving without troweling on the sap. Little Miss Sunshine has some elements of farce, including extended sequences of physical comedy and an unlikely, exuberant finale. But it takes its characters very seriously indeed, and affords them a measure of dignity even at their most ridiculous.”

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: “…a dysfunctional-family comedy with a crucial difference — the function progresses, hilariously, from dys to full and loving.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “This bittersweet comedy of dysfunction takes place at the terminus of the American dream, where families are one bad break away from bankruptcy.”

David Rooney, Variety: “A quietly antic dysfunctional family road trip comedy that shoots down the all-American culture of the winner and offers sweet redemption for losers — or at least the ordinary folks often branded as such.”