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

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
. 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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