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, 2006

                         

    LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE A family determined... 

 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 here.

 

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.

 

 


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