Little Miss Sunshine

By  · Published on August 18th, 2006

If there is one thing that I have picked up along the way of becoming a “real” film critic over the past few months, it is that it is very important to take good notes during a film. For me it helps keep me focused, making it easy to keep my thoughts in order. So now for every screening I smuggle in my notebook and take a few notes as I screen the movie. But last night something completely odd happened. As I was leaving the theater my lovely girlfriend pointed out to me that I had not once taken my notebook out of my pocket during the entire film. I was put into an instant state of shock; why didn’t I take any notes? After a moment of reflection, it came to me, the movie I had seen was an indie flick that was gathering some rave reviews from my peers, Little Miss Sunshine. And for Little Miss Sunshine, there were no notes to be taken, because for the first time in a long time I was absolutely consumed by a film.

Then my thoughts turned to the whys; why was this film so engrossing that I could not spare even a moment to write small blurbs that would later contribute to a review? I think it has something to do with the film’s honesty. The film repaints for all of us a dysfunctional portrait of a real American family. You have the dad, Richard, a lackluster but ideological motivational speaker played by Greg Kinnear; the mom, Sheryl, a ball of stress just trying to hold her family together played by Toni Collette; the suicidal gay brother Frank, played by Steve Carell; the hateful teenage son whose intelligence far exceeds his age, Dwayne, played by Paul Dano; a heroin addicted, porn loving grandpa played by Alan Arkin; and last but not least 7 year old Olive, played by Abigail Breslin, whose #1 goal in life is to be a beauty queen. And when Olive’s dream comes into play and she is selected to compete in the California Little Miss Sunshine pageant, this outlandish family unit must travel together from they home in New Mexico to enter little Olive into the pageant and maybe, just maybe, find a little bit of sanity along the way.

And therein lies what is so astounding about this little indie from directors Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris; the sensation characters that blossom and shine right before our eyes throughout the 101 minute runtime of the film. It is due mostly to this fantastic cast, that delivers what could only be described as a group of characters that were written for them and only them. The real spots of greatness come from Greg Kinnear, who delivers enough arrogance and indifference to the character of Richard to make him unlikable, but reels us back in with how much Richard truly cares for his family. The other bright and shining performance comes from Steve Carell; Frank is an incredibly distant character, often found lost in thought, but when Carell brings him back into the scene he is truly engaging. His performance is one of the best I have seen this year.

But even though the adults in this film fit their characters like that lucky pair of jeans we all have in our closet, the really unique and wonderful performance by young Abigail Breslin is what makes this film so great. She exudes this adorable honesty and sense of curiosity throughout the journey, keeping the family balanced. Just when you think the film has taken a more dramatic and serious tone, little Olive is right there to lighten things up. She really gives the film its overwhelming sense of honesty and her cute personality lights up the screen like a little ray of sunshine.

In the end there is nothing bad I can say about this film, as it is one of the best films I have seen in a very long time, possibly ever. Very rarely will you see a film that draws you in so close. The cast is exceptional, the story is phenomenal and the journey of this wacky American family hits all too close to home. I would highly recommend seeing this film, in fact you would be truly missing out if you didn’t go see it. Little Miss Sunshine will make laugh so hard that you will be brought to tears, but you will want to cry anyway, because the film just has so much heart.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)