Steve Carell did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Frank Ginsberg in Little Miss Sunshine.
Much of the film Carell gives a fittingly somber performance as Frank since before the films begins Frank had just attempted to commit suicide. Carrell's performance certainly matches this idea from his opening scene as the emotional devastation lives in his face. Frank is taken to his sister (Toni Collette)'s home where, despite being obviously not exactly functional himself, he is an observer of her family's dysfunction. Although the intensity of the depression obviously subsides to the extreme right after his most extreme act, Carell effectively keeps the sadness within Frank as he stays somewhat withdrawn from everyone else. In a subtle way Carell suggests Frank as basically reexamining his life as the story progresses around him. Carell is quite good as the impartial observer in portraying Frank's confusion and measured interest at the various oddities involving his sister's family whether it's her son Dwayne (Paul Dano) who swore a vow of silence , he beauty pageant obsessed daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin), or her extremely crusty father-in-law (Alan Arkin).
Carell rather interestingly takes a rather different approach for one major aspect of his character. That being he's a former university professor and who considers himself the number one Proust scholar. Throughout the film Frank attempts to espouse his scholarly knowledge, but the interesting thing is Carell does not portray Frank as the pompous intellectual type he very well might have done as that's that common style with this type of character. Carell though is very good in showing Frank attempt at giving out this sort of information, not as Frank attempting to stroke his ego, but rather a slight attempt to impart the little he has to give. I particularly like the scene where he fails at this when he attempts to tell the meaning of à la mode to Olive only to be quickly shut down. Carell brings the right sort of meekness in his demeanor as he rightfully never loses the idea that Frank is very much in recovery. It is perhaps the case that Frank may have been the pompous scholar at one time, but Carell is rather affecting in portraying a man who probably received more humility than he needed to in a short amount of time.
Carell's role is mostly rather muted during the film since Frank is often a passive character. Carell though never simply fades into the background though and his reactions are never wasted when he is part of the group. Carell is excellent by quietly conveying the improvement of Frank's mental health throughout the course of the film. It is not shown thrown obvious points of change but rather it is a gradual process as the rest of the story unfolds. Carell handles this incredibly well actually as it always seems honest as Frank becomes more optimistic. It is mainly through reactions but the transformation is well handled from his complete despair found in his first shot to some rather poignant glimmers of happiness seen by the end. Carell best moment is when Frank finally seems to succeed in his attempt at giving wisdom when he advises Dwayne to do his best to stick it out despite his problems with his family. Carell offers a nice bit of honest warmth in the scene and suggests, despite not saying so, that Frank intends to the same as he advised. This is a strong performance by Steve Carell which actually proved his ability as a dramatic actor not long after he technically was even considered a movie funnyman.