Review by Mark Walters


In this day of formulaic films, it's nice to see a movie that presents life the way it REALLY is.  Just about everyone has some form of a dysfunctional family, and the new film LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE shows us one that we can all relate to.  Oh sure, it isn't an exact representation of everyone's life, but there are great characters here, and chances are you'll identify with at least one of them, if not the situations they get into.

The film begins by introducing us to the principal players.  Young Olive (Abigail Breslin) dreams of becoming a beauty queen.  Her father Richard (Greg Kinnear) is looking to get rich quick with a motivational program he's sure will be a hit.  Her mother Sheryl (Toni Collette) is just trying to keep her family together in peace.  Her uncle Frank (Steve Carell) is being released from the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, and coming to live with her family.  Her brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) has taken a vow of silence, and is working out daily to get into the Air Force as a pilot.  And last but certainly not least, her grandfather (Alan Arkin) is trying to adjust to living with her family, all the while facing a secret drug addiction.  With all these people together in the same household, things are tense to say the least.  Then an unexpected phone call comes.  Is appears that Olive has been selected to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest, being held in California.  There's just one problem, the only way to get Olive there is for the whole family to go.  Frank can't be left alone, Grandpa taught her the routine, and the van is a stick shift, which Sheryl can't drive.  So after a short debate, they all agree to hit the road in hope of Olive achieving just a little bit of happiness.  But the road trip proves rather tough, with the van having shifting problems, and Richard constantly on the phone trying to get his deal done.  Can these quirky folks survive each other long enough to reach Olive's goal?

I went into this movie not knowing what to expect.  What I got is nothing short of perfection.  Music video directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris take us on a journey you won't soon forget, and never fall into the trap of Hollywood sappiness.  It's a slice of real Americana, served in a way we can easily relate to.  Gone are the feel good moments, and convenient conclusions to dramatic circumstances.  This film breaks the norm time and time again, and it works beautifully.  The performances are very solid.  Greg Kinnear shines, whether he's playing the overprotective and sometimes insulting father figure, or dealing with a rather difficult business deal.  He's not as likable as we're used to, but that's not a bad thing.  Why?  Because it's more real.  Toni Collette plays the typical American mom, trying to do the right thing, but often unsure what the answer is.  She's terrific here, which isn't a big surprise, as Toni has proved herself a great actress many times before.  Alan Arkin gets some terrific dialogue as the grandfather, often getting the biggest laughs.  He's offensive and flawed, but we love him regardless.  Steve Carell turns in a fantastic performance as Frank.  He's playing a brilliant gay man, distraught over a would-be lover, and his failed suicide storyline allows for layers you'd never expect an actor like him to get.  He's so good playing it serious, I sincerely hope he does more roles like this.  Paul Dano also has a challenging part, as he spends much of the film being silent, yet convincingly conveys emotions in every scene he's in.  The real gem here is Abigail Breslin, who wins our hearts with every line she delivers.  Olive is so cute and so sweet, you can't help but fall in love with her.  The film explores interesting emotional scenarios.  Subjects like how we deal with death, and the rather controversial young girl beauty pageants, are handled in a very unconventional manner.  This is like a film we've seen several times before, but with everything done different.  At every corner it breaks tradition, and in the end it all works.  I felt like I was watching something really special, and I truly hope others get a chance to experience it.  Line up the Oscars, this may just be the best film of the year.  No kidding. score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, I give LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE a 10!

Visit the Fox Searchlight LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE movie website by clicking here.

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