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WGUC Reviews

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rated R
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 for years.

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.


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