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Dysfunction Junction

Posted at 12:53 PM on August 3, 2006 by Euan Kerr (2 Comments)

So often nowadays vehicles become more than mere transportation. A car can be an office, a living room, or a dressing room. A place to sleep, a place to make love, or a place to foment revolution.


In "Little Miss Sunshine" the Hoover family finds its VW bus is a mobile prison, carrying each member away, or perhaps toward, their great and diverse passions. Given that the Hoovers are an immensely dysfunctional group, the resulting satire is humanly (as opposed to humanely) amusing.

Co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris set the family on a road-trip from Albuquerque to Los Angeles so the youngest member of the party Olive, can compete in a beauty pageant. None of them really want to go.

Olive's parents Richard and Sheryl (Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette) are desperately hoping an agent can sell Richard's self-help system and make the family solvent. Their teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano) has taken a vow of silence, and Richard's foul-mouthed father has been kicked out of his retirement community after being caught snorting heroin. And then there's Sheryl's brother Frank, (Steve Carell) a Proust scholar who recently attempted suicide after an unsuccessful gay romance (although as he points out at length, it wasn't really that which made him want to kill himself.)

On the surface none of them seem to really care for one another, but are going through the motions so they can get back to their real interests.

It's a manic mixture of desperation and frustration, encased in a malfunctioning bus, and it's very entertaining. All the performers acquit themselves well, with Alan Arkin's manic rage and Steve Carell's buttoned-down misery leading the pack.

While it's never really in doubt that the Hoovers will make it through, and there is all the usual stuff about the importance of family. What makes "Little Miss Sunshine" so intriguing is the question of how they'll do it, even as they make increasingly curious decisions and have to live with the consequences.


Comments (2)

Thanks to you, Euan, I was able to catch a preview of Little Miss Sunshine. To be honest, I haven’t thanked you enough. Why? It was delightful. You are right, it is a manic mixture and very entertaining!

Disclaimer: I am personally and somewhat oddly predisposed to enjoy a film that includes a classic VW Bus.

The film was a delight despite its premise. It takes that family and packs them along with their foibles and flaws into a VW Bus (one with its own charm and issues) for a road trip. Their mapped destination is the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant but their emotional arrivals are more interesting. The audience all rides along, wincing and laughing in turns, sometimes out of self-recognition. We’ve all been trapped at some point whether it is in a car or an uncomfortable conversation, and these characters are usually caught in both while tending or trumpeting their own faults. As one character brutally lists, divorce, bankruptcy and suicide are all represented. He neglected to add drugs, dashed dreams and a bad transmission, but we kept track.

It struck me that the audience laughed and enjoyed most scenes, even the emotionally difficult ones. The true shudders and gasps didn’t come until this dysfunctional group faces the pageant machine, the “normal” people obsessed with beauty and looking to push perfection.

Ultimately, I found Little Miss Sunshine to be a little gem. Discussing the movie afterwards, my companion remarked on how we all paid attention to the VW Bus as if we expected it to be more of a character, or in the chance something even more remarkable might happen. I think we looked at the family’s transportation when we couldn’t necessarily bear to watch their trip.

Posted by Julia Schrenkler | August 3, 2006 3:09 PM


I truly wasn't planning to see this movie, because it did look like a repackaging of the same old, same old heartwarming schlock. But I'm so glad I did. Far from being overly sticky and sweet or annoyingly self-righteous in its statements, this movie showed real people dealing not-so-terrifically with what could be (and might be somewhere) real issues. The laughing and crying and wincing and cheering that you heard was me.

Posted by Jo | August 24, 2006 4:01 PM


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