13th Aug2021

Opinionated: ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ 15 years on…

by Alain Elliott

I am, on the whole, a positive person. Most people who know me would say I am laid back and happy, and this would be true. But I feel like the world we are living is making it harder and harder to be like that. I am luckier than most in that I have lots of positive things in my life. Supportive family and friends, a job I actually enjoy and an amazing partner who is the mum to our beautiful daughter. But that in itself creates more worries. I worry about the world that my daughter will be growing up in.

The world, for many people, isn’t the happiest of places on a day to day basis. Here in the U.K. for instance – far right politics seem to be gaining popularity, knife crimes and death seem to be reported daily, the government isn’t as interested in global warming as it should be and racism, xenophobia and homophobia are still somehow prominent, perhaps even on the rise. And of course the recent Coronavirus outbreak has put almost everybody in fear mode.

Its easy for people to kind of get sucked into believing that there’s nothing you can do about things and that there’s nothing good out there in the world. But every now and then you might see something that lets you know things aren’t all bad. Little Miss Sunshine is one of those things. A film that reminds you there is positivity out there and will put a smile on your face while it does it.

Released in 2006, Little Miss Sunshine initially had a limited cinema release in America but went on to make over $100 million dollars internationally & domestically while receiving critical acclaim. But it is perhaps now a even more important film to watch with the world we are living in.

This is a movie about good people and how they react when bad things happen to them.

We have a mother and father, with a son and daughter. But also the fathers Dad and the mothers brother. Still with me? Anyway, Toni Collette plays the mum and I would say leader of the family. She is the one that holds them all together – the glue as it were. She will do pretty much anything for any of them but at the same time she will make it very clear if she disagrees with them. She has disagreements with all of them (except perhaps her young daughter) but whenever any of them are in need, she is front of the queue to help. Despite her flaws (and she needs these), she is a perfect mum.

Toni Collete’s brother is played by Steve Carell. A character who is just out of hospital after cutting his wrists and trying to kill himself. He is clearly depressed after being rejected by the man he loves but once again it is made clear that he is a nice human being. He starts to share a room with the teenage son because he is not allowed to be left alone. And there’s one great line after the son asks him not to kill himself that night – his reply “I wouldn’t do that to you”. It’s a lovely response from a character who is all about being honest and despite his situation, tries to smile through things.

That teenage son is played by the always excellent Paul Dano. For much of the movie, he is silent. On a silent protest until he can join the air force. He comes across as intelligent but still a bit of a stroppy teenager.

Greg Kinnear is the dad. At first, he will be the character you just don’t like. He is clearly disappointed with his son, has love/hate relationships with his wife and father, shows little interest in his brother-in-law and tells his daughter that life is all about ‘winners’. But as life starts getting hard for him in particular, we actually see him do a bit of a 180. He becomes more family-orientated and passionate about them. You will understand that what he was before was a misguided attempt at helping his family.

His father-in-law played by Alan Arkin, at first seems like a bit of a typical old man. Stuck in his ways, generally grumpy and not really caring about what anyone else thinks. But in little moments spread across the movie, we see he has really lovely relationships with all members of the family but especially his son – when we see him help him deal with a big disappointment that will effect all of his family. And by the end of the movie we see just how close, lovely and funny his relationship with his granddaughter is.

Lastly, we have the granddaughter. Played by Scream Queen herself Abigail Breslin. She is perfectly cast. Not only a great actress but also with the perfect look and style, in particular for that final beauty pageant scenes.

The family head off on a road trip to the beauty pageant that the daughter desperately wants to be a part of. It isn’t an easy road trip, there’s shouting, arguments, tears and much more. But the family are all the better for it because they have each other.

Little Miss Sunshine shows you that it’s worth being nice even if it isn’t obvious why. It’s good to spend time with your family even if they drive you crazy. It’s great to laugh as much as humanly possible even when things don’t seem so great. Most importantly you should always be yourself. Being yourself is fantastic and it will make the world a happier place for you and everyone around you.

To steal a quote from Little Miss Sunshine:

“You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life is one fucking beauty contest after another. You know, school, then college, then work, fuck that. And fuck the air force academy. If I wanna fly, I’ll find a way to fly. You do what you love, and fuck the rest.”

I think that’s a pretty great outlook on life and now in 2021, Little Miss Sunshine feels even more relevant than it did on its release.


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