I have been waiting a long time for this movie to come to town, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s an independent movie that I guess would be classified as a dark comedy or comedy-drama.
Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) is a little girl with big dreams. She watches beauty pageants on TV and dreams of winning one herself. She’s a cute little girl, by the way, but not in the little-adult, overly made-up, child-beauty-pageant-star way. When she wins a chance to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, she and her family make the trip from Albuquerque, NM to Redondo Beach, CA, where the pageant is being held.
Her family consists of her mother, who is determined that her daughter be allowed this chance (though no stage mother); her father, who is trying to sell his “nine steps to success” program; her teen aged brother, who wants to be a pilot and has taken a vow of silence until he achieves his goal; her grandfather, who got kicked out of his retirement community for snorting heroin; and her suicidal uncle (Steve Carell), who is mourning the loss of his boyfriend and his job. The uncle’s visit prompts some interesting dinner-table discussion, as Olive isn’t shy about asking him about dating a man and why he tried to commit suicide.
Given that her parents are concerned about finances until her dad’s program makes a lot of money, which he is sure it will, they decide to drive to Redondo Beach. They make the drive in an old VW bus, which predictably breaks down. They take it to a mechanic, but the part they need will take about a week and a half. Since they can’t wait, they make do.
The bus will run if they get the bus moving, by rolling it down a hill or by pushing, until it’s going to 15-20 miles an hour, and then starting it. So every time they need to go somewhere they push it and then run after it and jump in, which cracked me up. I guess it was a good thing they were doing highway driving instead of driving in the city and having to stop at stoplights all the time.
Other funny moments include Olive’s performance during the talent portion of the pageant, for which her grandfather (Alan Arkin) coached her. Let’s just say it’s not quite the same thing a professional dancing or singing or acting teacher help a contestant get ready for a pageant.
The best line in the movie is when they are pulled over by a cop and dad says, “Everyone pretend to be normal.” I think we’ve all been there.
Most of the movie takes place during the road trip. Along the way, two family members have to deal with the death of their dreams. The family also copes with an unexpected loss. But most of all, they find ways to support each other, dysfunctional or not, which made it a rather touching movie, in an offbeat way.