LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
Directors Dayton and Faris let
the "Sunshine" on the best film of the summer
PopcornReel.com Movie Review:
"Little Miss Sunshine"
By Omar P.L. Moore/August 4,
Sunshining: Abigail Breslin as Olive, and the family around the table at a
fast-food restaurant along the way in "Little Miss Sunshine" directed by
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. (All photos: Eric Lee/Fox Searchlight)
All summer movies should have a simple premise
that is easy to understand and relate to. All of us want to get somewhere,
namely from A to Z. In "Little Miss Sunshine", the new comedy directed by
husband and wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the goal is to get
from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Redondo Beach, California in one piece, with one
state of mind and one goal: to get little Olive Hoover of the notoriously
dysfunctional Hoover family to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant.
And if it means that a broken-down yellow VolksWagen van has to transport them
there, then so be it.
Dayton and Faris bring together a family with all its imperfections and flaws
and make them multi-dimensional. One is an obsessive optimist, compulsive
in his desire to make sure that his daughter Olive is a "winner, not a loser".
Another hasn't spoken for more than nine months, a third is suicidal and a
fourth is a foul-mouthed dope-smoking grandfather. Any movie with
characters like these which doesn't take the opportunity to make something
interesting happen is missing a great chance. Thankfully Dayton and Faris
don't drop the ball. They score a touchdown.
Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a motivational speaker whose nine-step program lacks
many enthusiasts. He triumphantly stirs his message and applies it
constantly whenever Olive has doubts about her ability to shine or when others
in the family entice her with things like ice cream. Olive's brother
Dwayne (Paul Dano) is a misanthropic nihilist who reads Fredrich Nietzsche and
hasn't uttered a word for nine months. When Frank (Steve Carell) a gay
suicidal Marcel Proust scholar, asks him why, Dwayne nods towards a large
artist's rendering of Nietsche. "You won't speak because of Friedrich
Nietzsche?" Frank replies quixotically. Richard's foul-mouthed father
(played exquisitely by Alan Arkin) is not bashful about using curse-words in
front of young Olive. "How many girls have you f----d?", he asks Dwayne at
one point. These and many other exchanges between these six memorable
characters -- and Toni Collette as Olive's mother tries to hold this wildly
eclectic family together as Sheryl, the spouse of Richard -- make "Little Miss
Sunshine" a film singular in its entertainment -- mostly humorous, but also with
reflection and some pain in this family, whose relationship with each other
begins as strained and as far apart as the distance between Albuquerque and
Redondo Beach but narrows as the journey progresses.
Family matters: the actors around
the table; and right, Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell and Paul Dano
cheer on Abigail Breslin.
Some of the funniest lines are the ones that
are written down and not spoken. Michael Arndt's excellent screenplay (his
ear for depth of character and dialogue is significant) features some terrific
lines which Dwayne writes on his note pad, since he deliberately chooses not to
talk as a promise until he gets enrolled in the Air Force. Among his more
memorable scribbles: "I Hate Everybody" and "Go Hug Mom". During the road
trip, Richard finds that there is a very fine line between winning and losing,
which puts his career and other work aspirations to the test. When he
relentlessly seeks approval of an idea he shopped to an executive, he is shot
down -- but his resolve only makes his desire to help his daughter Olive attain
her goal of getting to and winning the beauty pageant that much stronger.
During this two-day road trip there is
adventure of farcical proportions, most notably at a hospital --- this episode
provides numerous opportunities for an audience to let loose with laughter.
"Little Miss Sunshine" is composed of five or six-minute scenes shot mostly in a
5 or 6-shot composition (five or six people in a frame). The directors use an
economy of unbroken shots to give their film an intimate feel, as if we are
watching a home video of this family's every move. At times, it appears as
if we are doing just that. There is remarkable chemistry between the
performers, especially in scenes between the incredible Abigail Breslin (a
wonderkind actor of just 9 years old whose naturalism and poise is truly
amazing) as Olive, and Alan Arkin as Olive's grandfather, and Steve Carell (who
is noteworthy here for his acting in his role as Frank) and Paul Dano (as
Dwayne). They are family. That the actors were together on
the shoot for just over 30 days is a tribute to the directors' ability to
cultivate an environment of intimacy and realism -- the personalities of the
characters portrayed by the actors comes vividly alive, and Mr. Arndt's script
is a great platform for them.
Considering that the film is the first feature-length film shot by Mr. Dayton
and Ms. Faris, whose expertise is in television commercials and music videos,
"Little Miss Sunshine" is not only a tremendous crowd-pleasing entertainment
reminiscent of kind of audience euphoria fueled by "The Full Monty", but it is
the best film of the summer. The music from DeVotchka is lively and at
times moving, and Mychael Danna's original score fits this story of family and
character perfectly. Life is the ultimate trip, and the eyes of Faris and
Dayton, it is the experience of that journey that is most rewarding.
Likewise, experiencing "Little Miss Sunshine" will be the ultimate reward for
audiences starved of clear stories, authentic characters, belly laughs,
contagious energy and terrific writing and acting.
For more on "Little Miss Sunshine" and the
filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, click
Copyright 2006. PopcornReel.com.
All Rights Reserved.
"Little Miss Sunshine" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of
America, for language, sex and drug content. The film runs for about one
hour and 41 minutes.