Little Miss Sunshine is a family road trip comedy that sees the dysfunctional Hoover clan embarking on a cross-country journey to California when 7-year-old Olive (Breslin) reaches the final of the prestigious “Little Miss Sunshine” beauty pageant.
Head of the family is Richard (Kinnear), an unsuccessful motivational speaker who spouts dopey catchphrases like “luck is the word losers use to justify their failures” and “don’t apologise; it’s a sign of weakness”.
Next comes Frank (Carell), a suicidal Proust scholar fresh out of hospital after being jilted by his gay lover. Also on board is Dwayne (Dano), a miserable teenager who spends his days reading Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence until he fulfils his childhood dream of flying fighter jets for the US air force.
And last but not least is Grandpa Hoover (Arkin), a foul-mouthed sex addict who extols the virtues of heroin abuse to his young relatives, “At your age, you’re crazy to do it. At my age, you’re crazy not to do it”, and has just been chucked out of his retirement home for doing crack in the toilets.
The directorial debut from renowned music video directors (and husband-and-wife team) Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris was a huge critical success at Sundance Film Festival, and now we can see why.
LMS is a painfully accurate depiction of fractured family life that mixes wicked black humour (check out the Hoover’s efforts to dispose of a dead body, or the subtle sight gags such as Frank’s gay porno mag “Buns and Ammo”) with moving drama.
The satirical script from screenwriter Michael Ardnt (another on his big screen debut) also lands some decent blows against the disturbing, and very American, fascination with underage beauty pageants. And seeing the young bikini-clad wannabes writhing around on stage now seems particularly prescient after John Mark Karr’s recent confession to killing 6-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.
Let’s just hope this freakish practice never catches on in Britain.
The paucity of extras suggests there may well be a Little Miss Sunshine special edition with us later this year, particularly if it does well at the Oscars next month – at the time of going to press it had just been named best picture by the Producers Guild of America, where 11 of the past 17 winners had also triumphed at the Academy Awards.
For the moment however, you will have to make do with an audio commentary with directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and writer Michael Arndt, and four alternative endings – all with additional talk-track.
None of these are as good as the final cut, but it is interesting to hear why Dayton and Faris rejected these different versions and eventually plumped for the most simple one of the lot.
Much praise for this must go to the uniformly excellent ensemble cast, with Arkin’s sex-starved Grandpa - “Forget what everyone tells you. When you’re young, fuck as many women as possible, not one, as many as possible” – the pick of the bunch.
Staring: Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Extras: Audio commentary with directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and writer Michael Arndt, Four alternate endings with optional commentary from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris