"If you have ever attended a family reunion or sat down at an extended family holiday dinner and thought to yourself "Who are these people? How could I possibly be related to them?" -- then you will probably appreciate the hilarious and poignant indie film "Little Miss Sunshine."
Richard (Greg Kinnear) is the head of a mostly dysfunctional family and the author of a multi-step/self-help program that he espouses with the passion of a zealot. Sheryl (Toni Collette) is Richard's wife and arguably the most normal and high-functioning member of the family. Their son, Dwayne (Paul Dano), is a nihilistic and remote 15-year-old, who has either stopped speaking to his family because he can't stand them or taken a vow of silence to achieve a personal goal - depending on who is explaining his behavior. Olive (Abigail Breslin) is the family's bright and effervescent 7-year-old, who is already starting to pick up some of the family's more unhealthy tics of criticism and self-doubt. Grandpa (Alan Arkin) is Richard's acerbic and outspoken father who was booted out of his retirement home for snorting heroin. Add to this murky Freudian soup Sheryl's brother, Frank (a wonderfully restrained Steve Carell), who is newly released from the hospital after a failed suicide attempt.
When a message is left on the family's phone machine notifying them of Olive's acceptance into the semi-finals of the Little Miss Sunshine talent competition in California, they decide to (mostly) put aside their personal agendas and take Olive to the pageant. The combustible road trip is fueled by the radically different personalities bumping up against each other within the close confines of a VW bus and exacerbated by a variety of obstacles thrown at them in what seems to be a cosmic conspiracy designed to prevent the family from reaching the competition.
When the family finally does arrive at the pageant, the weirdness well and truly begins. Now I am someone who really loves a good horror story, but the 6 and 7 year old contestants were far scarier than anything you might see in a George Romero movie. I will take flesh melting zombies over little girls in full theatrical makeup and provocative costumes (that just screamed "JonBenet Ramsey") any day. The whole pageant atmosphere was Fellini-esque and completely cringe-inducing. When Olive is finally called upon to do her performance piece for the audience (a real show stopper which I won't spoil by detailing), she is actually the most wholesome and entertaining part of the whole pageant.
Although this family bickers with one another almost constantly, they manage to close ranks and support each other when it truly counts. Part of the pleasure of watching this film was the talented cast, who looked like they were really enjoying themselves. A wonderful way to spend 90 minutes -- and you will probably come away with a deeper appreciation of your own family."
Dysfuction at it's finest
JGC | 09/25/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Little Miss Sunshine" is the story of the Hoover Family. Olive (played by the adorable and very funny Abigail Breslin) has just been accepted into the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant (because of a cancellation) and her family decides to drive through three states so she can make the competition on time. Richard Hoover (played by former Talk Soup host, Greg Kinnear) is Oliver's dad who believes that winning is number one. When Richard tells poor Olive that she shouldn't eat ice-cream (because there aren't any fat Miss America contestants) I thought it was both extremely funny and also equally sad.
Paul Dano played Olive's (very comical) morbidly hate-filled brother, Dwayne. Alan Arkin played the coke-snorting, sex-crazy grandfather. Toni Collette was the kids' mom Sheryl; it was obvious that Sheryl was wrapped way too tight but she really did love her family. And rounding out this ensemble cast is Uncle Frank (played by "Forty Year Old Virgin" star Steve Carell.) Frank came to stay with Sheryl and her family after he recently tried to commit suicide after his homosexual love of interest rejected him.
So the family embarks on a car trip across NV, AZ, and CA in a broken down, old 70's bus (they have to push it to get it started!)
There are so many funny moments in this picture. It was also touching to see Olive put her head on her brother's shoulder to try to cheer him up, and I did suspect at that moment that Dwayne actually didn't hate everyone because he seemed so sensitive.
Anyone that watches this picture will certainly agree that Olive's dance routine was the hit of the entire movie. Olive dances to the tune of the Rick James hit "Super Freak" while prudish Pageant Official Jenkins (played perfectly by one-time "Malcolm In The Middle" star Beth Grant) goes absolutely BERSERK! I don't want to give anything away, but the entire family was involved, a huge scene resulted, and the police were even called!
After watching the first thirty minutes of this movie I thought to myself, "why are these people all together..." ...But I suppose family is whatever you make of it and the Hoover family must have really loved each other to go through all they did and still stay together. Maybe they don't make the same decisions as the "traditional American family" but that's ok because they still find their own happiness.
I reluctantly went to go see this movie after a friend told me how good it was. I protested because it looked totally ridiculous but my friend had already seen it and he insisted that it was a superior picture. And I am so glad that I went because this was one of the best movies I have seen in months. It is dysfunction at it's funniest! "
The Quirk Works--Don't Buy The "Sunshine" Hype, Discover It
K. Harris | Las Vegas, NV | 11/13/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Little Miss Sunshine" is yet another quirky indie comedy, this time about a dysfunctional family roadtrip. Every character has the requisite wacky personality and/or oddball mannerisms (as is the case in every film of this type). The plot is minimal and contrived, existing for the sole purpose of forcing this unlikely family together. Handled incorrectly, I would usually loathe this type of film. So I'm pleased to report that "Little Miss Sunshine" is far more successful than it has any right to be. While I still feel as if this "little" picture was slightly overpraised upon it's release, it provides many laughs and works as screwball comedy.
One thing that sets "Sunshine" apart from similar indies is a stellar cast. Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette do fine work as the embattled parents. Abigail Breslin brings a refreshing blend of hope and delusion to the title character. Alan Arkin chews the scenery as the foul mouthed addict father--it's nice to see him again, especially in such a showy in-your-face performance. Steve Carell is surprisingly sympathetic as the depressive gay brother. And Paul Dano delivers the movie's best performance as the disconnected son who has taken a vow of silence. So even though this colorful, supremely eccentric bunch are character "types" as opposed to real people, the actors make it work. The moments of drama that appear succeed only because the actors make you care.
But, first and foremost, this is a comedy. And I forgave the calculated eccentricities because the film is simply funny. Outrageous and slapstick, yet smartly observant, this film earns your respect and laughs. It's a fun ride with many identifiable situations.
Beloved by audiences and most critics upon it's release, I would hesitate to overhype this film for the DVD market. A viewer who discovers this picture is likely to appreciate it's charms more than someone who goes into it having heard it's the best film of the year. "Little Miss Sunshine" is not particularly original (it shares many plot elements from "Vacation," in fact)--but it is extremely well done. KGHarris, 11/06."
Sunshine is Brilliant
Kenneth Broadway | Sumter, South Carolina United States | 09/07/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Little Miss Sunshine is easily my pick for best film of the year. At the same time, I won't say that you've never seen a movie like this one before. It treads familiar territory and dredges up some recognizable character types, like the silent broody teen and the dirty old man, but it doesn't belabor them; instead it reminds us why we find situations and individuals like these so relatable. It's a road trip movie. It's a dark comedy, but it's also something else altogether.
There are sight gags a plenty and some dysfunctional family fun that walks a fine line between trite and genius, but I (and 93% of the critics on [...]) believe that the performances tip the balance in favor of genius. Alan Arkin is extraordinary as the cantankerous, heroin snorting grandpa with a heart. Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear, as the emotionally fatigued married couple, have an onscreen chemistry that threatens to blow up at any minute. (Boo! Kenney, that's such a cheesy line. You can do better.--I know. I know. But I couldn't resist. Watch the movie and you'll see what I'm talking about.) And we all know Steve Carrell can be funny, but who knew he could play tortured too. And here's something that's entirely refreshing: a seven year-old character, Olive, who is more naïve than she is precocious, and an actress, Abigail Breslin, who pulled it off realistically. She did more than pull it off really. She sold it, and I bought every tear and toothy grin.
The opening sequence introduces the characters and their particular quirks in a series of one-minute shots, so the audience member knows right from the beginning who these people are and basically what's wrong with them. Most of their backstories are taken care of around the dinner table, and then the movie literally hits the road when the whole family piles into a cheerfully yellow VW bus to take Olive to California, where she has a chance, by way of the only stroke of good luck in the entire script, to compete for the title of Little Miss Sunshine and fulfill her beauty queen aspirations.
The storyline tackles some grim and seedy subjects: divorce, suicide, drug-use, romantic pitfalls, failed careers, and we don't always get to laugh our way through them. With this movie, just like in life, you've got to take the good with the bad. In fact, Little Miss Sunshine accomplishes the nearly impossible and makes us grateful for the tragedies that occur, because that's when we get to see who the characters really are. Like in the case of Dwayne (Paul Dano), the teenage son whose vow of silence prevents him from talking for the majority of the film. We don't even get to hear him speak until he experiences his great disappointment, and it's not long after he starts talking that he reveals himself to be much more affectionate and protective of his little sister than his angry facial expressions let on.
You might start to think that Dwayne's got the right idea when you notice that some of the film's best moments are utterly quiet. Nobody ever says the right thing in this movie. No problems are solved just by talking them out. In fact, most of the time talking just leads to more problems. These characters learn to take action, and they get the job done. While the results--you can't really call them solutions--aren't always satisfactory for them, for the audience they are never less than entertaining or cathartic for that matter.
Be prepared to laugh, hard and often, so much so that you won't see it coming when it's time to cry. I realize that at the beginning of my review I made it sound like Little Miss Sunshine might be borderline cliché, but that was just me anticipating other people's possible complaints, certainly not asserting my own. But regardless of how original you do or don't think this movie is, it delivers some big surprises. Some of them you might see coming, but I highly doubt you could guess them all--just wait until you find out what Olive's talent is!
I hate to use the term dramedy. I choose to think a movie like this one actually collapses genres rather than blends them. But nevertheless Sunshine offers a good mix of strong emotion and light-hearted farce for everyone to enjoy. For all you heady types, there's a healthy helping of Proust and Nietzsche in there. For all you who would prefer slapstick, there's a good dose of that too, along with some pretty funny one-liners as well.
This film has a lot to say about life and disillusionment, expectations and harsh realities, but it says it with a smile and sometimes through clenched teeth. Its message never gets lost in all the absurdity, and it wasn't lost on me either.
atomic | washington, dc United States | 11/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"More of a drama than a comedy, this poignant film I believe is probably the best movie of 2006. Each of the characters is absurd but oddly believable. Many touching moments. An unpredictable but uplifting ending. Great acting. The little girl could charm a grizzly bear. Despite her external imperfections, her big heart, touching naivete and optimistic attitude will captivate you. I guarantee you will walk out of this movie a better person and with a smile on your face. How many films can do that?"