Good for Anyone

Little Miss Sunshine.

Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, and Toni Collette star in a film written by Michael Arndt, and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

Reviewed by Molly Freedenberg

This American road trip comedy (with dramatic tendencies) is one of the year’s best movies, by far. Delightfully dark and dysfunctional, like the family it portrays, this film follows a wacky band of relatives as they drive a rickety, sunshine-yellow VW van to Southern California so the plump, unselfconsciously dorky Olive can compete in a beauty contest.

The real success is the characters themselves. You have Paul Dano’s deadpan Dwayne, the angst-filled teen who’s devoted to Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence until he gets his license to fly jets. There’s Steve Carell’s Frank, the gay suicidal Proust scholar who makes the perfect friend and foil to Dwayne. And, of course, Abigail Breslin’s Olive, the sincere little girl with a penchant for rainbow-colored sweatbands and a complete unawareness that she is not the beauty pageant type.

Then there’s Alan Arkin as Grandpa, the heroin-snorting, porn-imbibing, foul-mouthed old man who, nonetheless, shows a remarkable tenderness for his granddaughter and, when it counts, for his son. Greg Kinnear plays a perfect Richard, the earnest, naïve, and annoying motivational speaker dad who’s judgmental and clueless, but fragile enough to garner audience sympathy. And finally there’s the always-spectacular Toni Collette as Sheryl, the frazzled mom trying to hold it all together despite her own inadequacies and frustrations.

Done poorly, these characters would be mere caricatures of themselves and the movie would play like an SNL sketch comedy. But thanks to the remarkable camaraderie and love exhibited within the family, it works very well.

Sure, some parts are a bit sappy. And the dead body farce seems a tad stale, if only because I grew up on Weekend at Bernie’s. But all in all, this is a funny movie with heart, culminating in a finale that celebrates the quirky strangeness in all families, in contrast to the grotesque, strange, inappropriate world of the kiddie beauty pageant.

This is the first movie in a long, long time that I can recommend without hesitation — to anyone.

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