'Little Miss Sunshine' is not your ordinary everyday movie. To be sure it is a road flick about a family's journey to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California. And what a family it is as well! You have Alan Arkin playing the foul-mouthed grandfather, Greg Kinnear as the Zig Ziglar-like success guru wannabe with a nine step program, and a cast of likeable misfits. Toni Collette who plays the wife plays one who is barely able to cope with all the madness in her family, but somehow manages. You have a son Dwayne who has taken a vow of silence after reading Thus Spake Zarathustra as he hates his dysfunctional family (he also wears a 'Jesus was Wrong' T-shirt), the wife's brother who is a Marcel Proust scholar who has recently tried to committee suicide after being rejected by a male graduate student lover, and there is the real star of the show--- Olive, the daughter who is in the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant.
The narrative is taut, with very little filler, and we get the bad language out of the way near the beginning of the movie. The journey is undertaken in a VW van that is in bad shape, and requires starting in third gear and a lot of pushing. The father preaches winning of course, though he discovers along the way that his book deal for his own success book has fallen through. Also along the way, the coke snorting grandfather dies, and has to be put in the back of the van so they can make the pageant itself for the sake of the one really likeable character in the movie--- Olive. And as for Olive, well she is short, has big glasses, is a bit chubby, but is sweet and has a nice smile. She is anything but the stereotypical contestant in such a contest. She, at least is real, and those other contestants are so phony and over wrought its hard to watch.
When one gets to the pageant, with all the spray-on tanned daughters and the over-weening Mom's vicariously wanting to win the pageant in the person of the daughter, you see much of what is sick about our image-driven-beauty-is all-about-appearance culture. It is a devastating critique of what counts as beautiful or for that matter what counts as talented. It is also a major swipe at what counts as normal these days.
Is there anything redeeming in this movie? Well actually yes. The love of the grandfather, indeed of everyone for Olive and the desire to support her. The son Dwayne's transformation when he learns he will not be able to go to flight school because he is color-blind, accidentally discovered of course on the trip to California. He apologizes to his family after he gets through screaming about his color-blind condition, and thereafter acts like a good supportive and protective big brother. And perhaps even the father gains some wisdom about the folly of his 'winning and success are everything' attitude. His family has actually become more nearly what it ought to have been in the first place. In a sense, this movie is a celebration of family and the importance of supporting each other and sticking together, even with the warts, wrinkles and foibles in the family. As such it is a lesson in grace and forgiveness that all of us could use--- since of course none of us live in perfect families.