a wonderful film. it has elements of malcolm in the middle, p.t. anderson and national lampoon’s vacation. in fact it is even linked to two of those – bryan cranston appears here as stan grossman, but he plays the father in malcolm in the middle; and mary lynn rajskub is in both punch-drunk love and this film.
from start to finish the film engrosses the audience. in fact, if you’re not engrossed by the time the title appears i’d be damned surprised. it opens with a quick introduction to the various characters and their various obsessions, vices, or problems. as the film unfolds it becomes clear that the emotional center of the film is the young girl whose quest to become little miss sunshine dominates the plot of the film. everyone is brought together by her enthusiasm for life which contrasts the other characters, who are in varying states of death. kinnear is obsessed with his 9 steps of life program and winning, arkin is enraged and addicted to drugs, dano is anti-social and unable to appreciate his family on any level, collette is struggling with keeping the family together and her smoking habit, and carell is in a deep depression and comes into the story shortly after a botched suicide attempt. put this way the film doesn’t seem like a comedy, but it most certainly is. it’s a bold comedy that isn’t afraid to be different, audacious, and profound in the process.
the symbol of the vw bus, which requires a push to get it going, works perfectly within the film. not only is it the perfect choice of vehicle for their family, but it also represents their reliance upon each other to get where they need to go. it also works as one of the many effective comedic elements of the film. the image of them coming back to pick up olive is unforgettable.
the final act sees the family’s goal complete – they have arrived at the little miss sunshine pageant. but it isn’t quite what is expected for any of them and each grows during their time there. kinnear realizes that some things in life aren’t worth winning, dano redefines his dream and embraces his position in the process, and carell finds a new place as a mentor. the family, too, coalesces. they realize that they’re different and, for better or worse, a unit. this is seen most clearly in the dance scene. breslin dances to “super freak,” much to the astonishment of the pageant organizers. this is perhaps the best scene of the film because it is humorous, poignant (because we see the family truly coming together) and profound (because of the commentary). the commentary can be simply put as anti-beauty pageant, but that doesn’t really do it justice. breslin’s dance, done to rick james’ “super freak,” is overtly sexual and shocks the pageant personnel. what it really does though, is redefine an already atrocious parade of overt sexuality in young girls. breslin’s dance is certainly sexual in one context, but because we know her character and see her ignorance of sexuality, it is seen as precious and cute. however, much is revealed by the fact that the pageant organizers don’t see it this way. essentially, breslin’s dance and music choice turn the overt sexuality of the pageant on its head. it’s a brilliant commentary on one of the more sickening aspects of our culture. the jonbenet ramsey type pageant participants function as the perfect foil for breslin and her family. in the end, they exit the parking lot through the entrance and drive off into the horizon.