A warm, feel-good movie

For the Hoover family, dysfunction is their function.

Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a motivational speaker whose rampant over-optimism enshrouds his own insecurities. His wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) attempts to hold everything in place as best she can, which is no mean feat when faced with her Nietzsche-obsessed son Dwayne (Paul Dano), her gay brother Frank (Steve Carell) who has survived a suicide attempt and the wilfully offensive grandfather played by Alan Arkin. When Richard and Sheryl’s daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) qualifies by default for the finals of the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest, these disparate individuals are forced together as they embark on their journey to the tournament.

With its gently paced early scenes, Little Miss Sunshine emphasises the importance of recognising the dreams, insecurities and foibles of each character with Olive’s innocence the only aspect of the film that emphasises any element of comedy. Once the road-trip itself if underway, Little Miss Sunshine evolves into something a little different. It’s certainly not cutting edge in any discernable manner but there’s a sense of personal reflection and true sadness that movies of a similarly high profile generally kill with syrupy sentimentality.

Whilst a few overly contrived scenes grate, the humour that Dayton and Faris have infused is otherwise extremely well-judged; what’s more, utilising touches of slapstick, cuteness, observation and realism give Little Miss Sunshine a well-rounded sense of fun that’s quite unique.

The Hoover family are finely crafted characters that can’t be defined as two-dimensionally as simply winners or losers. That’s key to creating what is at heart a warm, feel-good movie; battling minor defeats with small victories is what life is all about.

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