Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

Title: Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Dir: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Little Miss Sunshine is a funny, heart-warming family film. Not a family film in the sense that you should watch it with your 6-year-old; but in the sense that it is about family and how important they are. It is also a refreshingly real take on dysfunctional families. Despite a cynically black sense of humor, the film really touches the heart and leaves you smiling.

Sunshine is about the Hoovers, a dysfunctional American family who must take a roadtrip to California so that young Olive (Abigail Breslin) can fulfill her dream of competing in the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant.

The film starts off very bleak and unfunny. While the characters are quite real, it is uncomfortable to watch their squabbling. But once the roadtrip is underway, things lighten up. This narrative design brings the audience along for the ride, and like the Hoovers, the viewer gets to experience the family's ennui, and then the subsequent relief from it.

In the role of Olive, Breslin steals this movie. You smile with her, cry with her, cheer for her. I'm not a sensitive person usually, but even I grew some maternal instincts just watching this character. Yes, I choked up a bit, too. Breslin is a great young actress and ideal for this role.

Everyone else is flawless, as well. Greg Kinnear plays Olive's father, who is so wrapped up in his own failed dreams that he has ignored his family. As his stressed out wife, Toni Collette (one of our generation's great actresses) is fantastic. Steve Carrell, proving his dramatic chops, plays Olive's depressed uncle, while Alan Arkin fills the role of the troubled but kindly grandfather - both actors are perfect here. And finally, Paul Dano plays Olive's older brother, who holds nothing but contempt for his family and spends most of the film under a vow of silence. All these performances really make the film. Each feels completely genuine and you may recognize their traits in your own family.

Expect this film to really tug at your heartstrings. It has some very funny moments, but its real strength lies in the way it grabs your emotions. It isn't depressing - a little cynical perhaps, but mostly it'll just make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Don't miss it.