Reviews

Little Miss Sunshine

4

A motivational-speaker father who’s losing his motivation, a Nietzsche-obsessed mute son, a Proust scholar uncle who’s barely on nodding terms with existence and a grandfather who’s been thrown out of his retirement home for snorting heroin... If this family got any more ‘wacky’ they’d be sectioned under the Someone Gag Robin Williams Act (see Patch Adams and Flubber).

Penned by first-time writer Michael Arndt and belly-rubbed to purring-point by Sundance critics, Little Miss Sunshine pays a heavy debt to indie quirk-master Wes Anderson with its parade of Royal Tenenbaums-style, pseudo-academic oddballs drawn together on a life-altering quest (The Life Aquatic). But the film has too much heart to be self-consciously tricksy. Debut directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris maintain a strong, confident mood that teeters excitingly on the edge of farce. There’s gay porn, dead bodies and some very anti-Anderson dialogue (“Fuck as many young girls as possible,” Alan Arkin tells his grandson, before extolling the virtues of heroin: “At your age, you’re crazy to do it. At my age, you’re crazy not to do it”). It’s capped by a stand-out performance from Carell – a painful and subtle transformation from suicide-fetishising beardy depressive to slightly sanguine beardy depressive.

Sunshine badly wants to be “scathingly satirical” (so it says in the press pack), but it’s not. By the time they reach the contest – where make-up-caked pre-pubescents parade in their smalls – there isn’t really room for any cultural barbs. Like life, the journey is all.

 

But such cynicism wouldn’t suit it anyway. Strip away the oddball trappings and Sunshine is a rack of simple tales – a father discovering the true meaning of success, a son coping with teen angst, a mother holding a family together – all smartly and sympathetically executed without cliché or schmaltz. Feelgood fun for all the dysfunctional family.

Verdict:

Not quite as cray-zee or scathing as it thinks it is, but Sunshine's mix of playful mockery and irony-with-heart lets it shine.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • jasminaz02

      Jun 14th 2010, 13:33

      3

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    • Rytrospyk

      Aug 23rd 2010, 11:36

      4

      This to me is one of those films you can watch over and over, without getting bored. The characters work perfectly off each other (e.g. the grandpa (Alan Arkin) and the grandaugter (Abigail Breslin). Definately recommend you watch this if you're looking for something not too deep.

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    • FBEXanthopoul

      Jan 21st 2012, 16:28

      4

      www.unsungfilms.com, by Angeliki Coconi Dysfunctional family at its best. Little Miss Sunshine opens with the most unforgettable family scene ever made, taking place around the dinner table. In the first ten minutes of the film, all the family members make a noticeable appearance when they get together for dinner in their living room. This is when, after a few seconds, the audience realizes that the ideal image of a calm and loving family discussing warmly while eating is, in this case, an unreachable goal. And the American dream has never been more of a utopia then in Little Miss Sunshine. During this hilarious opening scene, the youngest daughter finds out that she has been accepted to take part in the finals of a beauty pageant entitled “Little Miss Sunshine”. As this is the little girl’s dream and she has been coached by her grandfather in order to win, the whole family soon find themselves driving to California for the competition, in a yellow BW camper van. “Oh my God, I’m getting pulled over. Everyone, just… pretend to be normal”, Richard Hoover kindly asks from his family, as he is being stopped by a policeman on the highway. This request hilariously sums up the whole film which does not allow its audience to stop laughing for even a second while watching. First ever script for Michael Arndt and directorial debut for the husband-wife team, Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris, the film is a road trip and a journey in which the characters change, learn, grow up. They experience failure, social awkwardness, hopelessness and even death, but somehow the tragedy of life is faced with a brave, warm, intelligent and realistically optimistic sense of humour. Released in 2006 and produced by Big Beach Films, Little Miss Sunshine stars Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell and Alan Arkin. And in their very own special way, they are all six, excellent. Perfect pace, great timing and ultimately, relationships that are painfully believable. The script has certainly helped this highly skilled team of actors, by generously offering them more than enough character depth and hilarious dialogue to work with. The Academy doesn’t usually like films that don’t make us miserable, or actors that look like themselves in movies, but in this case even they had to find it in them to give Michael Arndt the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and Alan Arkin the award for Best Supporting Actor. The film also won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature and a number of other awards. “Mom, look around! This place is f****d”! Through such subtle dialogue, Little Miss Sunshine criticizes the whole beauty pageant culture and the obsession of winning and coming first in any area. Passionately satirical, very politically incorrect and honest in every way, Little Miss Sunshine takes a hundred viewings before one can decide on his favourite character or line. I still haven’t. Angeliki Coconi at www.unsungfilms.com

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