Little Miss Sunshine

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Little Miss Sunshine posterNot having any place to blog for so long has left me tragically behind on reviewing the films and books I've watched/read recently, so I am going to try to catch up on that. Susan and I saw Little Miss Sunshine a couple of weeks ago, on the recommendation of Susan's friend Laura, and I was very pleasantly surprised. The previews for the film were minorly intriguing, but it looked as if it might be one of those films in which everyone is so awkward that it's more painful than funny, so I wasn't all that excited about it. What I found, however, was a story that was both sweet and funny and biting and sarcastic, snappy dialogue, fantastic acting, and a timely (especially given the recently renewed interest in the JonBenet Ramsey case) and right-on indictment of children's beauty pageants.

The film centers on the multi-state trip of one fucked-up family, in an old VW bus, with the goal of getting daughter OIive (played remarkably well by Abigail Breslin) to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Everyone in the family has his or her own cross to bear or axe to grind. Grandpa (a fantastic Alan Arkin) is Olive's biggest supporter, but he's also a porn-obsessed drug addict who has recently been kicked out of his assisted living facility for smoking heroin. Dad Richard (Greg Kinnear) is an irritating wanna-be self-help guru, obsessed with winning while he himself is clearly a loser. Uncle Frank, an understatedly hysterical bearded Steve Carell, is recovering from a recent suicide attempt, spurred by his doomed love affair with a male student and subsequent job loss (he's America's number one--or number two--Proust scholar!). My favorite family member is sulky, silent brother Dwayne, played by Paul Dano (who is not, as I thought, the kid from Elephant), who takes teen family angst to a whole new level with his Nietzsche obsessing and 9-month vow of silence. Finally, there is mom Sheryl, a harried Toni Collette, who is just trying to hold it all together.

While the bulk of the film's time is spent on the chaos that ensues in the family's cross-country trip, giving each actor his or her moment to highlight each character's psychoses and humor, the true pay-off comes when they finally arrive at the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. In only a few minutes, the film manages to scathingly indict an industry that sexualizes little girls and pits them against each other, as well as making me laugh so damn hard I nearly fell out of my chair. It would spoil the surprise to tell you exactly what happens, but suffice it to say Olive surprises everyone when her routine is unveiled, and the scene uniquely able to be funny on both a slapstick level (Dano and Carell's dancing alone is worth the price of admission) and a sarcastic one.

Little Miss Sunshine is directed by music video directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and written by first-timer Michael Arndt.

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