Little Miss Sunshine: A sentimental guilt trip
In the midst of a snowstorm and a global pandemic, I felt it was an appropriate time to watch ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. A movie about a family’s journey across the country to compete in a beauty pageant. Let’s meet them, shall we?
What’s it about?
A family struggling with drug addictions, suicide, and selective mutism travel to California for a beauty pageant in a yellow Volkswagen van.
Welcome to the Hoover’s. Dad’s a failed motivational speaker with a winner-takes-all mentality, Mum’s on her second marriage, brooding emo teenager, Dwayne, has taken a vow of silence, younger sister, Olive, is an aspiring yet unlikely beauty queen, Uncle Frank’s on suicide watch and Grandpa’s probably doing heroin in the nearest bathroom.
Our story begins with a montage of the family members and mum, Sheryl, driving to the hospital to pick up her younger brother. Ah, Toni Collette and dysfunctional families. We meet Sheryl’s younger brother, Frank. Looks like Steve Carell hasn’t bothered changing since filming ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’.
Back at the house, we are introduced to 15-year-old, Dwayne, who has taken a vow of silence, for the past nine months, in honour of Friedrich Nietzsche and refuses
to speak until he becomes an Air Force pilot. Teenagers these days…
(When showing Frank his new room with Dwayne) “He doesn’t mind, Frank. We talked.”
Somehow I very much doubt that. Next two characters are 7-year-old Olive, the hopeful pageant queen and Grandpa Edwin, a sharp-witted man with a drug addiction. Last to join the party is Richard, Sheryl’s husband and Dwayne’s stepdad. The whole family sits to for a nice, relaxing meal but Grandpa seems less then pleased at tonight’s menu. Uh-oh. Taboo topics are under discussion at the Hoover’s tonight. Looks like chicken isn’t the only thing causing controversy. As the discussion starts to get heated, Olive wins a beauty pageant after their first choice has to forfeit due to use of diet pills! Olive is thrilled but I can’t say the same for the rest of the family. Despite Dwayne’s complete lack of verbal communication with…well, humanity, he seems to manage to get his point across just fine.
And so, it is decided. The family will travel across the country in a yellow Volkswagen van. On the way, Grandpa gives heartfelt life advice, to his grandson, based on his life experience. He manages to make every second word profane yet succeeds in being a better public speaker than the actual public speaker. Luckily, Olive is listening to music during this lecture. The last thing this family needs is more therapy to pay for.
Thank goodness. It’s time for breakfast. Frank gives us an etymology lesson (a la mode) and Richard gives us a biology lesson that no one asked for. Ever.
“Olive, Richard is an idiot.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
(Sheryl to Olive) “It’s ok to be skinny and it’s ok to be fat, if that’s what you want to be”.
Everyone is out shining Richard at his own job today. Oh dear. Our beloved van breaks down. Should we call it quits and go home? Nope. Driving safe is for wimps anyway.
(Richard to Frank) “Sarcasm is the refuge of losers.”
Darn. Now we’re at a petrol station. Richard discovers his programme has been rejected and Frank has an uncomfortable exchange with an ex. Larry Sugarman doesn’t know when to leave well
enough alone. With everything else going on, the family forget their youngest member and their reason for travelling 800 miles at the petrol station.
A few hours later, the family checks in to a motel for the night. Olive stays with Grandpa, Frank stays with Dwayne and Richard and Sheryl share a room. The latter spend the better part of the night arguing about Richard’s career failure. Richard then tries to solve this problem by riding a small bike, in the middle of the night, to Scottsdale. I sure hope your 9-step plan can get you out of this one. Oh wait…
The next morning, disaster strikes. Grandpa dies during the night. A journey to the hospital, however necessary, throws the family completely off schedule. Regardless of the untimely death of his father, Richard is still determined to make it to the pageant. He gets Frank to stand outside the hospital window and carry his deceased father’s corpse to the van where they will travel across states with his body stashed in the boot. In-laws… Also, breaking the law is fine, as long as you’re not a loser. Take notes.
An officer stops the van and searches it but is too distracted by Frank’s questionable choice in magazines to notice the dead body. The family continues their journey. A series of optical tests conducted by Olive reveal that Dwayne is colour blind and will not be piloting any aircrafts any time soon. After months of silence, Dwayne’s first words are (very loud) swears. If Grandpa Edwin was still here with us (and not lifeless in the back of our van), I’m sure he’d be proud.
Huzzah! After countless setbacks (Bankruptcy, Edwin’s death, lifelong dreams being crushed, to name a few), the Hoovers have arrived at Redondo Beach. Frank and Dwayne have a chat outside about suffering. Dwayne starts swearing like it’s going out of fashion (or ‘a la mode’).
(Olive looks scared backstage. Toni Colette’s character Sheryl tries to comfort her) “You ok?”. I would take back every critical thing I have said if Olive turned around and said, “I see dead people”. Olive gives, quite possibly, the best dance routine seen on screen. Though not as age appropriate at the other acts, she actual has more clothes on than the other girls combined. Oh, the irony.
First line: (on tv) “The winner of a $30 000 scholarship is…Miss Louisiana”
Last line: “What in the world?”- Pageant judge
Best line: “Everyone just…pretend to be normal.”
The good: Frank and Dwayne’s “do what you love” speech, Cherry Chocolate Garcia and Olive and Edwin’s last scene together, the night before the pageant.
The bad: “Because daddy hates losers”, “Grandpa won’t wake up” and Dwayne’s breakdown (and Frank having to tell him before).
The funny: Smuggling Edwin’s body, the broken horn and the whole dance scene.
Best characters: Frank and Edwin
Worst characters: Sheryl and Richard
Moral of the story: Life is a beauty pageant and real beauty queens are allowed to like ice cream (or frozen yoghurt).
Overall opinion: “Outstanding, soldier! Outstanding!”