Little Miss Sunshine is the first feature film directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, directors who previously made many respectable music videos working with groups such as The Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Korn. The movie was released in 2006 (but it took 5 years to make), it was very successful, and also won two Oscars, one for best screenplay and one for best supporting actor (Alan Arkin). The film is a brilliant dramatic comedy, and below I will try to explain the reason behind my enthusiastic judgment.
In Little Miss Sunshine we follow the (dis)adventures of a family of Albuquerque: we get to know the father (Greg Kinnear), the mother (Toni Collette), the grandfather (Alan Arkin), the uncle (Steve Carell), and the two sons (Paul Dano and the splendid Abigail Breslin). The father is a loser who hates losers, the mother is stressed out, the grandfather is a drug addict, the uncle just tried to kill himself, the son has not spoken for months and hates the whole world, and the daughter feels that she’s too fat to participate in the beauty contests she sees on television. In other words, it is a family with normal problems in a particularly difficult moment.
And if this were a stupid movie, by the end of it everyone would have solved their problems and live happily ever after. But this film is anything but stupid, luckily, and the ending is very different. During the film they simply learn to be together, to collaborate (look at the metaphor of the van whose engine doesn’t start unless everyone pushes it), and above all to accept themselves for what they are (this is very clear in the scene of the collective dance during the beauty contest). The obsession with being a winner and following the American dream of success and money is ridiculed for what it is: nonsense. We must live the life we want, not the life imposed by the society and that we constantly see in advertisement. And we just have to try to be happy, this is Little Miss Sunshine’s take-home message.
The characters are all fantastic. The character arc of the father during the movie is impressive. The grandfather is also very interesting: far from being a wise man, he at least speaks with a certain clarity given by his years of life experience. And then the little girl is lovely: pure, innocent, and open to the experiences that life offers her. Then also Paul Dano (it’s his first movie) has a great role, funny at the beginning and then anything but stupid in the second part of the film. Then the soundtrack is beautiful, the colors… in short, it’s a good movie.
Finally, how can we not sympathize with a story written to go against the distorted ideas of the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger? The idea for the script came to the writer Michael Arndt after he listened to a public speech by the Austrian actor/politician in which he claimed to hate losers. Well, the screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine goes against the liberal/turbocapitalist idea that in life either you go up in the social pyramid or you go down. So thank you Arnold, but above all thank you Michael Arndt for writing a story that not only amuses us, but also makes us think. Simple and brilliant. Worth watching! Ciao!
PS: it was funny to see both Bryan Cranston and Dean Harris in the movie (they have two small roles) years before starring in Breaking Bad, which also takes place in Albuquerque!