The premise for Little Miss Sunshine is that the aforementioned group is sent cross-country when Olive (Abigail Breslin) receives a spot in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California. While the oddball group and the situational premise would suggest just another ambiguous comedy, 'Little Miss Sunshine' actually contains some legitimate laughs and, even more surprisingly, a message that's unique for its conviction.
A common Hollywood theme these days is that no one is a loser - anyone, no matter how gawky or uninspired, is special in his or her own way. In most Hollywood releases, those gawky, uninspired individuals gain the self-confidence they need and go on to win the Little League championship and gain the respect and friendship of their peers.
Little Miss Sunshine, however, takes the road less traveled, suggesting that some of us are simply losers, at least in the way most people understand the word. Early on in the film the definition of a loser is given as The person who doesn't win, which is how many of us think of it. But by the end of the film the definition has come around to mean something along the lines of The person who never tries or never dreams.
All the characters in the film are losers, at least in the first sense. They've tried and failed or are in the process of failing. For example, Dwayne (Paul Dano) wants nothing more than to get through his teenage years, be left alone and become a fighter pilot. Seems normal enough, right? What kind of mean-spirited film would screw up his life by precluding his one dream? An honest one; one which says that, no matter how hard we want something, no matter how hard we strive for it, we may not get there. And it is this decidedly anti-pop message that sets Little Miss Sunshine apart from both the losers are still people films and the dysfunctional family comedy films.
Sadly, however, the film's almost understated presentation hiccups towards the end, lapsing into the more traditional film style of make 'em laugh and they might not notice how sappy this is, as the entire family takes the stage along with Olive to show their support. Okay, we get that they're being supportive. Sure it was funny, but it was also a blatant attempt to show us something that we'd already firmly established: they care about each other and don't care about how they are viewed by their so-called peers. Fine point, but poor presentation.
But despite that one unfortunate moment the film is still an excellent one, with great performances from such veterans as Toni Collette, Alan Arkin and Greg Kinnear. It also showcases the
talent of the brilliant Abigail Breslin (better, if you ask me, than Dakota Fanning) and a flipside of comedian Steve Carrel. Although Carrel is highlighted (probably because of his recent success with 40-Year-Old Virgin), Little Miss Sunshine is as close to an ensemble film as possible, splitting its focus equally among the family without feeling fractured and vague.
If you go to Little Miss Sunshine expecting another Wedding Crashers or 40-Year-Old Virgin, you'll be disappointed. It isn't as raucously funny as you might expect, but it offers more than most comedies. Had I seen it when it first came out, I would have said there was no way this would be well received by the movie-going public. But considering that the film has grossed roughly six times its production budget, it's a good thing I didn't.