A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this family road trip movie includes sexual slang and references to drugs, mostly by the grandfather. Pornographic magazines (only the covers are shown) and a comedic striptease figure into the plot. Characters discuss depression and suicide (Uncle Frank has cut his wrists before the movie starts; his bandages are visible). There are conversations about "winning" and "losing," as measured by financial success. A character dies about halfway through the film; the family wraps up his body and carries it in their van to their destination. Characters curse (several "f--k"s), and the mother smokes a couple of cigarettes.
What's the story?
The Hoover family decides to make the trip from Albuquerque to Southern California after starry-eyed daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) unexpectedly scores a spot in the regional Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. The whole clan -- sunny Olive; anxious mom Sheryl (Toni Collette); aspiring motivational speaker dad Richard (Greg Kinnear); feisty, drug-using Grandpa (Alan Arkin); cynical teen Dwyane (Paul Dano); and gay, suicidal Proust scholar Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) -- piles into their old yellow Volkswagen bus (which has become the movie's signature image) and hits the road. Naturally, that road is full of all kinds of obstacles -- including car trouble, lots of bickering, and even an unexpected death. But in the process of working together to help Olive make it to the pageant, the Hoovers come to understand each other anew ... or at least appreciate the fact that no one else could possibly understand them except each other.
Is it any good?
This is a delightful film with a funny, tight script. It's true that the family road trip comedy isn't exactly a new genre; nor are quirky indie movies about dysfunctional families all that hard to come by. But somehow LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE manages to combine the two into something fresh, engaging, and often hilarious -- with a dash of "aw shucks" poignancy to boot. There's nothing radically new in terms of storytelling or character development, but the film nonetheless succeeds, thanks in part to its excellent cast (husband-and-wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris lucked out, casting Carell just before he hit it really big with The 40-Year-Old Virgin). There aren't any wasted moments in this movie; even the smallest action -- Frank buying the dirty magazines, for example -- turns out to matter down the line.
And then there's the finale. Ever since Little Miss Sunshine premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival (and was purchased for a record $10.5 million), the big beauty pageant finish has been making audiences laugh until they cry -- which is pretty much how the Hoovers seem to approach life in general, so it all works out in the end.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way the Hoovers come to respect one another's differences. How does young Olive remind the adults of their lack of faith, innocence, and commitment?
How does the beauty pageant serve as a metaphor for other competitions in the film -- say, between family members?
How might Richard be more open to his family's needs, rather than trying to make them conform to his?
Why do you think this movie -- a little indie discovered at the Sundance Film Festival -- did so well with audiences? What's it's appeal?
- In theaters: July 26, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: December 19, 2006
- Cast: Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette
- Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for language, some sex and drug content
For kids who love comedy
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.