Seven-year-old Olive Hoover is the only person in her small extended family with any joie de vivre. You could conclude, cynically, that life simply hasn’t had a chance to beat her down the way it has her harried mother, desperate father, seething brother, suicidal uncle and combative grandfather, but that kind of darkness is exactly what Little Miss Sunshine gently pushes away. One only has to take a look at sweet little Olive’s name to figure out what she represents.
Yet despite the fact that the heroine’s name is an exhortation and the moral of the story comes via Proust (really), Little Miss Sunshine is sweetly understated, never preachy or saccharine. The cast is simply too talented to let the movie become cloying.