The combination of atypical characters brings sincerity, humor, and meaning to the film. The story ridicules insecurity, and the yearning to become a winner. This is shown through Greg Kinnear’s character, Richard, who constantly preaches his family about the nine steps to success. He continuously cuts into family discussions when he’s not comfortable with the subject. Steve Carell’s character, Frank, is such a subject. Sheryl, played by Toni Collette, is and all-out and ‘pro-honesty’ mother. She doesn’t mind her brother talking about his homosexuality and suicidal tendency over a family dinner. Sheryl is the closest to being a normal character. This film depicts the seemingly not so ordinary, which turns out to be ordinary, American life. Alan Arkin’s character, Grandpa Edwin, is the ordinary whining and cynic grandfather who is a heroin and pornography addict. He gives advice to Dwayne, played by Paul Dano, his grandson about not ending up like him. Dwayne embraces his vow of silence for it helps him get away from his family’s oddities. Olive, played by Abigail Breslin, is hopeful to win the pageant and tries to fulfill a pageant winner’s image.
The film shows Olive in the middle of a room filled with girls her age that look like smaller versions of Miss America contestants. We see the weird rituals these competitors perform backstage and the tragedy that covers up what they really are, little girls. Olive then appears to be far more normal than the other contestants in the end.
Written by: Michael Arndt
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris