Sunshine Shines Bright

by Alan Rapp on August 17, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Little Miss Sunshine
  • IMDB: link

This is a terrific little film.  It’s sad when movies such as John Tucker Must Die get huge distribution and marketing while truly wonderful smaller films such as this one will struggle to find an audience.  Little Miss Sunshine is worth both your time and money; it’s so good I didn’t want it to end.

Into every life a little rain must fall, into this family…well, wear your galoshes.  Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a self-help guru who is lives his life to “the nine steps,” determined to be a winner and not a loser.  His wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) is trying to keep the family together despite their financial and emotional difficulties.

Son Dwayne (Paul Dano) quietly worships Fredrick Nietche, he’s taken a vow of silence, and spends his time dreaming about a life flying jets.  The grandfather (Alan Arkin) is a heroin addict who’s main philosophy to the younger generation seems to be – sleep with as many women as possible.

And then there’s Sheryl’s gay brother Frank (Steve Carrell), the preeminent Proust scholar in the country, who has just been released from the hospital after a failed suicide attempt and moves in with the family.  Rounding out the group is the youngest member Olive (Abagail Breslin) who has won a spot in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant.

The family all jump into the yellow VW wagon to make their way to the pageant.  Through the trip they fight, drive each other crazy, and have some moving moments.  Like all the best road trip movies, it’s the journey rather than the destination that matters.

The script is well penned by Michael Arndt, and the cast bring such life and vitality to characters that could easily be wasted in a bigger mainstream film.  The quirkiness and humanity of each character shines through because of, rather than despite, their individual foibles and failures.  This is a real family that, while you often laugh at their misfortune, you come to care about and root for by the end of the film.

Steve Carrell is proving to be as good as anyone working today in taking a flawed but mostly good character and imbuing him with a humble truthiness (hey, it’s a word – ask Stephen Colbert!) that makes your heart melt.  Frank’s tale, like the rest of the film, is as hilarious as it is heart breaking.  Arkin is great at balancing his character’s anger and resentment with a love for his granddaughter.  And despite not speaking for most of the film, Dano provides some of the most intelligent and honest dialogue you’ll find anywhere.

And then there’s Breslin who just shines as the hopelessly naive young Olive who wants nothing more in the world than to be a beauty queen.  She’s the heart of this misfit family that holds them toghether and gives them a common cause to rally behind.  The pageant scenes alone are worth the price of admission – wait tell you see her “talent.”  I defy you not to laugh!

This is as honest, moving, and funny film as you’re likely to find this summer.  I’ll defintely go back for a second viewing and I urge everyone to find where it’s playing near you and check it out.  The film deals with some weighty issues for a comedy: homosexuality, attempted suicide, unrequited love, and drug use.  It’s not quite your average family film or summer comedy.  These are real people with real problems that aren’t all solved over the course of the film.  The script takes each issue seriously and doesn’t blink while somehow finding the humor in such human experiences.  It’s really quite amazing.

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