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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Drama > Little Miss Sunshine (Theatrical Film Review)

Little Miss Sunshine (Theatrical Film Review)


Stars: Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin

Directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Critic's rating: 8 out of 10


Review by Chuck O'Leary


Dad Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a struggling motivational speaker constantly spouting self-help clichés; the teenage Dwayne (Paul Dano) is going through a Nietzsche stage where he refuses to speak a word until he's accepted into the Air Force; Grandpa (Alan Arkin) is a sex-obsessed cokehead; Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) is a homosexual scholar who recently attempted suicide; and, more often than not, Mom (Toni Collette) is just a supportive bystander.  These people make up 7-year-old Olive's highly dysfunctional, but all-too-human family in Little Miss Sunshine, a quirky little movie that really grows on you.  It's the pleasant surprise of the summer thus far.


The film begins with young Olive (Abigail Breslin) finding out at the last minute that's she's eligible to compete the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant, one of those grotesque beauty pageants for little girls.  The pageant is being held in Southern California, but despite having limited time to get there, the entire family hops into their old VW van and drives from their home somewhere in the American Southwest in a race against time to make the pageant.  Many obstacles will be faced along the way, including a malfunctioning van that won't start without a strong push and an untimely death.


Little Miss Sunshine brings to mind one of those National Lampoon's Vacation movies, except this time the family is much more realistic and the tone much darker.  Some people have commented on how hilarious the film is, but I found that the underlying sadness of the characters muted most of the laughs.  Nevertheless, it's a refreshingly honest movie made by people who seem to know a lot about life, and all the disappointments, uncomfortable moments and ridiculous little "rules" that come with it.


First-time screenwriter Michael Arndt and the directing duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (making an auspicious feature-film debut after working for years on commercials, music videos and documentaries) have come up with a liberating little ode to dysfunctional family unity and nonconformity that may occasionally make you cringe, but will ultimately touch your heart.  I highly recommend Little Miss Sunshine to anyone craving to see a good, off-beat movie about real people.


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