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Oscar®Oscar® Winner for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor in a Supporting Role—Alan Arkin
NOMINEE FOR: Best Picture and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Abigail Breslin)

Movie Review

Little Miss Sunshine

MPAA Rating: R for language, some sex and drug content

Reviewed by: Richard Schmitz

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adventure Comedy Drama
1 hr. 41 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
August 4, 2006 (select theaters)
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Suicide, what does the Bible say? Answer

If a Christian commits suicide, will they go to Heaven? Answer

What should a Christian do when overwhelmed with depression? Answer

What’s wrong with being gay? Answer
Homosexual behavior versus the Bible: Are people born gay? Does homosexuality harm anyone? Is it anyone’s business? Are homosexual and heterosexual relationships equally valid?

What about gays needs to change? Answer
It may not be what you think.

What does the Bible say about same sex marriages? Answer

Can a gay or lesbian person go to heaven? Answer
If a homosexual accepts Jesus into his heart, but does not want to change his lifestyle, can he/she still go to Heaven?

What should be the attitude of the church toward homosexuals and homosexuality? Answer

Read stories about those who have struggled with homosexuality

Featuring: Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Producer: Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

“Everyone just pretend to be normal”

Quirky families have been the foundation of innumerable comic films (Ma and Pa Kettle come to mind) and ages of television shows (“Beverly Hillbillies”, “The Simpsons”, “Malcolm in the Middle”, are just a few examples). “Little Miss Sunshine,” directed by the husband and wife duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, follows in this tradition—and another tradition as well, that of the road trip.

For the Christian filmgoer, there is plenty to object to in “Little Miss Sunshine,” beginning with heroin-dealing, cocaine-using and porn-buying Grandpa and continuing through Nietzsche-reading 15-year old Dwayne who has taken a vow of silence and wears a t-shirt reading “Jesus Was Wrong” and ending with Frank, suicidal after an affair with a male graduate student went bad. That and a child performs a strip-tease (albeit very innocently).

The center of the film’s story, however, is 7-year-old Olive Hoover—a little pudgy with plain, straight hair, and overly large glasses—who dreams of being Miss America and participates in whatever local beauty pageant is open to 7-year-olds. Olive, unlike those around her, is an eternal optimist, is courageous, and states her belief that there is a Heaven.

If you can get past the bad language and images of drug use and porn, you’ll find a very positive movie that has some good things to say. The theme of “Little Miss Sunshine” is that love and family is the only thing that you can count on to get you through the stress, struggle and pain of life’s circumstances. You will either walk out of the film—or walk out of the film at the end with a smile and a good reminder of just how important family bonds can be.

“Little Miss Sunshine” is very well acted, written and directed. Steve Carell is perfect as a depressed, gay college professor who’s just lost out (personally and professionally) to his apparently only rival in the narrow academic field of the study of Marcel Proust. Veteran actor Alan Arkin plays Grandpa, bitter about being evicted from his retirement home after being discovered dealing heroin.

Greg Kinnear plays Richard Hoover, the dad of the family, who’s desperately marketing a self-improvement program he’s come up with. “Are you a winner? Or are you a loser?” is a frequent refrain. Mom, Sheryl Hoover, is played perfectly by Toni Collette. She’s a nurturer and peacemaker teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown as she shepherds her family through, teen angst, financial strain and domestic disarray. Paul Dano is excellent as Olive’s brother. “I hate everybody,” he writes whilst silent. When Frank asks if he means his family, too, Dwayne casually underlines “everybody.”

Peacefully in the middle is Olive, played perfectly by Abigail Breslin. For some reason, Olive and Grandpa are a team—they accept each other unconditionally—and together they train, with Grandpa as choreographer, for whatever pageant opportunities come Olive’s way.

The film’s plot is simple enough: after winning (by default) a local “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant, Olive learns she has advanced to a regional pageant. The family, for various reasons, must make the drive from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach in their vintage VW microbus. What follows is both poignant and hilarious.

This film will have to be marked “offensive,” however, once the layers of cultural shock is rolled back, the basic message is positive, and I think uplifting.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive—This is definitely not a film for everyone. However, for discerning adults (young and old) this film is well made, well acted, and an absolute joy to watch. My favorite thing about the film is that each character, no matter how depraved, grows as a human being. There are valuable everyday lessons to be learned through this film.

From a moral standpoint, the movie is not nearly close to being appropriate for children. The material in the film is very open and straightforward in displaying themes of drug use and sexuality, but some of this is necessary for later character growth. The character of the grandfather is responsible for about 90 percent of the objectionable material in the film, but even then most times the family realizes that his behavior is inappropriate and it is acknowledged as being the wrong thing to do. more »
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 5
Daniel Thompson, age 23
Positive—We live in a fallen world and yet there are songs, films or moments which can deeply reach us and touch or inspire us incredibly. I have to believe these moments come from God. We don’t have the power to limit how He will choose to reach and teach us. For some, films can act as a parable—demonstrating a story or purpose that can be greatly profound. “Little Miss Sunshine” is, in fact, such a film for me. Is it morally superb? NO. It also doesn’t pretend to be. It is rated R. It is honest in it’s reasons for the rating. There is no pretense that this is a “family” film, It isn’t. And truthfully, most kids wouldn’t really “get it” anyway.

“Little Miss Sunshine” is the story of a family. Plain and simple… The story of a family that, though fictional and well-acted, comes across as real. Many of us can relate to the antics, annoyances and moments. There are many offensive things from plot points to brief drug use (NOT at all glorified) to language to talk and images of pornography and sex. It’s not for the light of heart. It also isn’t for people who don’t enjoy a good “off the wall” comedy. If you find yourself drawn, though, to quirky comedies, this will make you laugh so hard your gut hurts. And, as the credits roll, you will realize that in the midst of your tear-enducing laughter, you were likely touched and inspired by it’s poignancy.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 5
Misty Wagner, age 30
Positive—This is the BEST film of the summer, possibly the year! I loved every minute of it. It’s a film about a dysfunctional family, yes, but the film embraces the value of family like no other film that I have seen in recent years. With that in mind, I will say that the directors of the film said that they clearly aimed to make a film “not about family values, but the value of family,” and that statement couldn’t be closer to the truth.

This is NOT a “family” film, so do not take anyone under 17 to go see it. The language is pretty harsh, and there are many mature themes throughout the film. Some people may be shocked to discover what Olive’s “talent” is at the end of the film; I thought it was hilarious, but if they can see past a few flaws that the film has, mainly in the profanity department, they will see what a wonderful film it really is. The characters are three-dimensional, and we care for every single one of them, even the vulgar, heroin-addicted grandfather. I loved this film, and I hope that others will at least give it a chance. The Hoover’s aren’t the perfect family, but seriously, does the perfect family even exist?

All in all, I highly recommend this film with caution. I took my mother to it, and if she can handle it—she’s one of the most discriminating viewers that I know of—then anyone should be able to get through it. However, you must remember that it is rated R for a reason, so if you’ve read this review and you go see the film anyways, then you really don’t have cause to complain about what you see/hear. Go see it! It’s great!
My Ratings: Offensive / 5
—Adam Renkovish, age 24
Positive—This was one of the better movies I’ve seen this year. The grandpa was a little hard to take, pretty much given over to depravity, although he overcame his depravity in little moments with his granddaughter and his son. That was kind of a positive thing as well, because it makes me think about how we all have a dark side that shows itself from time to time, but that doesn’t mean we are totally written off from showing any goodness towards others. I wish when the grandpa was encouraging his teenage grandson to be promiscuous, that his grandson had responded with wisdom, which some teens would, by writing out something that would have showed how foolish it is to be promiscuous. The acting was perfect. What a perfect cast for the parts.

I love thought-provoking movies about families and relationships, and seeing the ugliness and the beauty and accepting both. I loved the conclusion with Olive’s dance which I thought was al so perfect for trashing the ridiculous child beauty pageant world!
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 5
—Leslie Ann Forgie, age 48
Positive—This film is a look into the lives of one family. They are an unbelievably disfuntionaly family, but we must admit, those families do exist. This film portrayed a hurting group of people and while there was much left to be desired morally, we must remember that not all films must be moral in order to send a powerful message.

I don’t think any one person, Christian or otherwise would look at this family and envy their relationship or strive to be like them. This is a character piece that focuses on each individual and deals with a great many issues. Sure, these issues are not all concluded in a nice, neat little package with “Jesus Loves Me” wrapping paper, but does it need to be in order to send a message to believers and non-believers alike? more »
My Ratings: Average / 5
—Vaughn, age 21
Negative—There is no question that this is a clever movie. The characters are well-defined and quintessentially quirky. Each role is delivered superbly. But it’s the story line. Humor is eked out of an extremely dark plot about a family going to extraordinary lengths to get a little girl to a beauty show. The events along the way are in very poor taste. Extremely immoral messages abound. Although I appreciated the laugh out loud humor in a number of places, I left the theater feeling gloomy. There was not a bit of virtue in the plot, except maybe for the family’s growing appreciation for each other. This is not a movie I want to remember or recommend.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 4
Halyna Barannik, age 60
Negative—I truly must be out of touch with most of America because I really detested this film. I found it to be incredibly depressing and boring. It’s as if a small band of Hollywood elitists sat around to devise a film about what they think the average dysfunctional American family might be like, but in truth, probably reflected their own wierd Hollywood lives.

I could have tolerated the little beauty queen (who was realistic) but then the writers threw in every negative stereotype they could think of into the mix: a cocaine-addicted porn-loving grandfather who uses “f***” every other word and teaches his little five year old how to striptease and his grandson to have sex with every woman he can, a teen that hates himself and his family, a cop who gets all gushy when he sees hard core porn magazines, and, of course, the sweet and wise gay man (most gays are portrayed as the heros in this type of movie) that attempted suicide because his lover ran off with another man.

This completely delusional family fumbles their way through one after another of their depressing foibles until the movie culminates in their onstage rebellion against the pageant officials who tried to kick them out because no one really wanted to see a round little ugly untalented girl do a striptease.

There was nothing redeeming about this movie. Any of the characters who were enlightened, basically learned to shun the real, sane world and revel in their own bad behaviors and attitudes. This was a typical Hollywood “in your face” film.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 3
—T Endicott, age 52
Negative—This is a well-made film that has its funny moments, but in reality, it’s just a moral nightmare. I understand that people are human and humans are prone to make mistakes. However, this film takes the cake. It should NOT be viewed by teenagers. Although Steve Carell’s character is gay, I believe that he steals every scene he’s in.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 4
—Shannon, age 25
Negative—A complete letdown, despite one or two funny bits. The film couldn’t make up its mind whether to be a comedy or a meaningful film and fell uncomfortably between the two. However, it might have been more enjoyable, but for the foul language throughout and Alan Arfkin’s delight in pornography, which he has put into his unwitting grandaughter. The ending was neither a send-up of the ridiculous child beauty pageants, nor did it give much hope that the resolution of the family would last. It left me totally depressed.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 3
—David Littlewood, age 59
Negative—Every review whether positive or negative has rated this movie Offensive or Very Offensive. I, as a believer cannot be “entertained” by such material. It made me feel ill. After tolerating all the depravity of a bored Hollywood executive in the opening scenes, we turned it off after the grandfather is going on his tirade about how the grandson should be “f***ing” all the young girls. What we put in our hearts and minds is what comes out. I believe this was toxic junk that shouldn’t be swallowed for a fleeting moment of “entertainment.”
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 3½
—Heather, age 29
Comments from young people
Positive—I’m a little tired of people missing the point. Not only with this movie, but with so many other offensive movies. Some of them do, in fact, contain messages, and we’d be better off to look for those message instead of drowning in f-words. This film is about family, not beauty pageants or gays or a little girl doing a strip tease. It’s not, so please stop seeing it that way.

The film centers around a stressed-out-messed-up family and they’re stressful road trip to get the youngest daughter (an overrated but still wonderful Abigail Breslin) to a beauty pageant in California. On their trip, they’re individual lives continue to fall apart, and their van breaks down too. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Joseph Hughey, age 17 (USA)
Movie Critics
…Some fairly harsh language and heartbreaking situations are spread across the film… Unlike many such movies, we do see the characters grow as they move beyond the bickering and selfishness…
—Stephen McGarvey, Crosswalk
…Annoyingly (and somewhat predictably), it’s the most depraved character who doles out the most nuggets of wisdom. …In a frustratingly long and depressingly vulgar scene, Grandpa drills into Dwayne the ‘importance’ of sleeping (and that’s not his term for it) with ‘lots’ of women, especially while he is still a teenager. …
—Steven Isaac, Plugged-In
…on-the-mark performances from all six members of the hapless Hoover clan…
—John Urbancich, The Cleveland Sun News
…packed with wit, heart, real characters …the quirkiness in ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ comes from honest characters, not the desperate-to-be-different caricatures in such films as ‘Garden State’…
—Bill Muller, The Arizona Republic
…whimsically incisive …Beneath its oddball veneer, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ is a knowing injunction against a society that requires every American to be a winner, when simply being a human being used to be enough. …
—Steve Schneider, Orlando Weekly
…the film is so much fun, it’s almost impossible not to enjoy the journey…
—Toddy Burton, Austin Chronicle