Little Miss Sunshine

7 out of 10

Dysfunctional Family Hits The Road

"Little Miss Sunshine" was a delight to watch. It is the story of a dysfunctional family which rallies around the loveable Olive (Abigail Breslin) when she unexpectedly gets the chance to become a contestant in a child beauty pageant in California. The father Richard (played by Greg Kinnear) sums up the themes of Little Miss Sunshine. Richard has devised a 9 step program to turn losers into winners yet suspects he himself is a loser and has trouble expressing his emotions yet you do feel that underneath the surface he does care deeply about his family. Little Miss Sunshine explores both the concept of winning versus losing (cheering for the losers) and the idea of family and the love it should generate.

The whole family, including tight-lipped mother Sheryl (Toni Collette), her despondent brother Frank (Steve Carrell) and her brooding son Dwayne (Paul Dano), go on the road trip together from Arizona to California, during which they surmount one problem after another in original fashion. The VW bus they travel in should get credit as a supporting character as it helps to generate several hilarious scenes. The actors work well together and obviously enjoyed making the film, which comes out in their fine performances. I can almost guarantee that you will not have encountered several of the funniest scenes in any other movie you have ever seen.

None of the main characters come across as one dimensional. There is enough early exposure to the characters to get some feel for them, and they continue to reveal themselves as the trip continues. Alan Arkin is particularily hilarious as the foul-mouthed, drug-using yet empathetic Grandpa. His views on life, delivered while Olive has safely got her discman headphones on, are not to be missed. Incidentally, the producer who pushed the project through to completion, Marc Turtletaub, makes a brief appearance as a doctor early in this picture. Turtletaub certainly deserves credit for getting this fine indie to the screen.

The beauty pageant is no doubt based on real child beauty pageants and it is a frightening sight. I was almost wincing at the barbie doll appearance of the child contestants and their somehow sexualized performances. You really felt that every adult involved should have been horsewhipped or at least treated like a pusher, pimp or some other lowlife. Thrust into this nightmare world, our by now beloved family manages to rise to the occassion in a hilarious climax to the movie.

The only downside that I could find is that a lot of incident is packed into the course of a couple of days and at least once it felt a bit contrived. This quibble aside, the dialogue is excellent (including Dwayne's, who spends most of the movie literally not talking to anyone) and the laughs were great, judging by my own and those of the rest of the audience. More importantly, the humor was good-hearted rather than mean-spirited and the tone of "Little Miss Sunshine" was ultimatly whimsical and feel-good. If not for some adult themes and some definite foul language, it might qualify as a family film.

It is surprising that there were financing difficulties connected to the making of "Little Miss Sunshine", but perhaps it did not fit well enough into any Hollywood pigeonhole. Fox Searchlight paid $10.5 million dollars at the Sundance Film Festival this year for the rights to distribute "Little Miss Sunshine". Like Fox Searchlight, someone going to the cinema to see this gem will find it was definitely worth the money.

Gem - Definitely Worth The Money

Film Critic: Douglas A Gunter