"Little Miss Sunshine," the latest road-trip tale to hit the big screen, follows the Hoovers, a clan so fractured to begin with that their outrageous highway mishaps seem like salt on an already raw wound.
The concept, of course, is nothing new. "National Lampoon's Vacation" is always a great rainy day laugh; "Trains, Planes, and Automobiles" could be one of the best road-trip comedies ever, while Tom Green's "Road Trip" is a more recent fan favorite. But Robin Williams' family flick "RV" tanked in theatres earlier this year; therefore, it is important to acknowledge a good road trip film when it comes along.
"Little Miss Sunshine," stars Greg Kinnear stars as the harried dad, a failed motivational speaker; Toni Collette as the frustrated mom, the family breadwinner who preaches a pro-honesty policy; Steve Carell as her brother, a suicidal gay Proust scholar; Alan Arkin as a foul-mouthed, heroin-snorting grandpa; Paul Dano as a teen who's taken a vow of silence; and Abigail Breslin as a plumply adorable 7-year-old fixated on becoming a beauty queen.
Crammed into a Volkswagen minibus, the Hoovers embark on a weekend of misery as they race across the desert to get their daughter to her pageant in California.
Naturally, trouble ensues. A broken clutch turns push-starting their vehicle into a team sport. A detour to a hospital results in an unexpected case of body-snatching. A malfunctioning horn and some raunchy porn lead to a run-in with a traffic cop. And there's the usual familiarity-breeds-contempt that boils to the surface when relations are trapped together for hours on the road.
Already a hit at the Sundance Film Festival, the film opened in New York and Los Angeles on July 26 to good reviews. Premiere magazine said it's "diverting and often funny enough, largely thanks (as is not unusual in cases like this) to its cast."
This is the feature film debut for husband-and-wife directing team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, whose prior experience was directing award-winning commercials and music videos for the Smashing Pumpkins and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Perhaps the reason this road trip seems so real is because the shoot, too, was a grueling trip of sorts. It was filmed over 30 days in the summer of 2005 at locations in southern California and deserts in Arizona because the directors were set on illustrating the realism of being on the road.
The cast had an entire week together before they shot the film, so they drove, ate together, improvised and got a feel for who the Hoovers really are.
"I think what people respond to so deeply in the Hoovers is that they're strained, they're awkward, but they're also just so real," Carell said in a recent interview. "This is how families are. It's not all puppy dogs and ice cream all the time. It can get ugly and it can get sad and it can get funny, and that's how life really is."
"Little Miss Sunshine" opens in more major cities throughout August.