Little Miss Sunshine
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Review by: Larry Thomas
Despite claims to the contrary by people you know, everyone has a dysfunctional
family in one form or another. It may range from the lone "black sheep,"
to a whole nutty clan.
Little Miss Sunshine gives us the opportunity to spend some quality time with
the ultimate dysfunctional family. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris,
who gained fame for their music video and series television work, this is their
first feature film. It was a major hit at the last Sundance festival, and indicates
a long, successful career making quirky and offbeat films.
It's a simple plot: dysfunctional family travels cross-country in a dilapidated
VW micro-bus to take 10-year-old daughter Olive to the finals of the "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant. That average-looking Olive, and seemingly the
most normal member of the family, would actually make it to the finals of the
"Little Miss Sunshine" pageant is not particularly believable. But
it doesn't matter. We're all along for the ride.
Greg Kinnear plays an unsuccessful motivational speaker, who is full of pomp
and hot air. But he loves his daughter. He's married to Toni Collette,
who can't quite cope with everyone and is unable to stop smoking. But
she loves her daughter. Paul Dano is the teenage son, Dwayne, who has become
mute by choice to follow the teachings of Frederic Nietzsche. Steve Carell,
who had a huge success with THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, is mom's brother,
just home from the hospital after a failed suicide attempt after being jilted
by his gay lover.
Grampa, played by Alan Arkin, is the potential Oscar nominee in the cast. He's
a cranky, foul-mouthed, heroin-addicted, porn-loving old coot who managed to
get kicked out of the retirement home. And yes, he, as well as all the others
in this fractured family, loves Olive. Grampa even helps her with her routine
for the pageant.
Abigail Breslin as Olive is completely charming and talented. She rounds out
this outstanding ensemble cast, all of whom interact as if they have lived together
When you have a busload of such disparate characters on a road trip, lots of
"stuff" happens. Funny stuff. Sad stuff. Heartwarming stuff. And
optimistic Olive is the sun around which all these planets revolve. Unfortunately,
like with most comedies, there's just a tad too much slapstick to fit
in with the story, but that's a minor quibble. There are both chuckles
and bellylaughs, as well as a couple of really poignant moments.
And when Olive finally gets to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant and performs
her routine, you may fall out of your chair from laughing so hard.
Little Miss Sunshine is totally politically incorrect and takes the opportunity
to appropriately skewer the concept of the children's beauty pageant,
and those who produce, support, and encourage these grotesque freak shows.
In some ways, the story is reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz: Olive
as Dorothy, heading far, far away with an odd bunch of folks, looking for something
special. But, as we all know, there's no place like home.