Saturday, August 12, 2006

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

Little Miss SunshineGreg Kinnear Directed by Jonathan Dayton
Starring Greg Kinnear
Reviewed by Byron Merritt

HUGE THUMBS UP! A HUGE THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING!

The Screen Actors Guild have an "Outstanding Performance by a Cast" award they give out annually, and this year LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE must be among the nominees (if not the recipient).

Never before has a story been so well told and equally acted. Moving the audience to tears one moment and making us burst with laughter the next, this script was absolutely brilliant.

And the story goes...

Young Abigail Breslin (SIGNS, 2002) plays Olive, a six-year-old whom the entire cast orbits around. The first place contestant in a local New Mexico beauty pageant got eliminated and Olive, who’d came in second, is the default winner. She’s going to California for the Little Miss Sunshine finals. But due to financial limitations, the family can’t fly her, so all of them pack into a VW bus and head west. With Abigail comes her barely functioning dysfunctional family. Her father is played by the estimable Greg Kinnear (THE MATADOR, 2005). Richard (Kinnear) is the only one who can drive a stick, so he has to go. But with him comes his "are you a winner or loser" motivational comments that irk everyone around him. Also with them comes Olive’s older brother Dwayne (Paul Dano, THE KING). The 15-year-old has taken a vow of silence until he’s passed a test that allows him to fly jets for the Air Force; he writes his caustic comments on paper for all to read. Then we have Frank (Steve Carell, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN) who was recently released from the hospital after slitting his wrists and is on suicide watch by the family. A renowned Proust scholar, Frank found himself fired from his teaching job after falling in love with a student; one of his male students. Next we have Olive’s grandfather played pitch perfect by Alan Arkin (THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING, 2001). He’s a smack-sniffing, perverted old man with a misplaced heart of gold. He’s also Abigail’s instructor for her dance sequence in the upcoming competition. And finally there’s Sheryl (Toni Collette, IN HER SHOES), Olive’s mother who is the glue that holds the family together.

Road trip movies are practically a dime a dozen, but many miss the mark or become ludicrous. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE has no such problems. Bouncing off — or sometimes smashing against — each family members’ personality, Olive (Breslin) is the unifying good-natured persona that makes this entire flick so very watchable. Olive is a bit overweight, wears thick eye-glasses, and has little talent. But her family loves her without restraint and when they stuff themselves into the dilapidated VW, it is her unflagging perkiness and smiling that drives them onward toward California, even when confronting a failed father, a difficult brother, a faulty clutch, or death.

The dance sequence at the end of the film is something of movie legend. If you think about who Olive’s grandfather was, the dance she chose to do was outstandingly accurate (what other kind of dance could a drug-addled, porn-watching old man teach?) Needless to say I cringed and laughed at the choreographer’s choice. It also made me ask "if" I should be laughing at this, as it was completely deranged and inappropriate!

I’m going to risk a lot here and say that I haven’t seen a film this enjoyable in about two years. And the audience that watched it with me seemed to agree; they all stood and applauded when the credits started rolling. That says a lot, I think.

Click here for the Little Miss Sunshine movie trailer!

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