LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) is a motivational speaker desperately trying to sell his 9-step program without success, when his wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) brings home her gay brother Frank (Steve Carell), following his failed suicide attempt after being jilted (and professionally overlooked). It is the eve of the Little Miss Sunshine quest and little Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) has been coached by heroin snorting, foul mouthed grandpa (Alan Arkin), ready to travel to California's Redondo beach for the competition. Everyone has to go (in a temperamental VW combi van), including Dwayne (Paul Dano) the angry young Nietzsche-following son of the Hoover household who has taken a vow of silence until he gets into the Air Force Academy.
Review by Louise Keller:
A bitter-sweet black comedy that leaves nothing but a great taste, Little Miss Sunshine is a passport to a good time. From first time directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the story tells of a dysfunctional family thrown together on a road trip filled with mishaps. It is genuinely funny, often at the most surprising moments, when we recognise the absurdness of the situations and circumstances. After all, humour is ripest when counter-balanced with tragedy. Laugh a lot, cry a little and be uplifted by the journey.
Winning is everything, according to Greg Kinnear's obsessively optimistic motivational speaker Richard, who believes winners never give up, while sarcasm is the refuge of losers. As plans to take the beat-up yellow and white family bus to California are formulated over an oversize tub of take away chicken, it is clear there will be no shortage of challenges on the way.
The casting works beautifully with Steve Carrell cast effectively against type as the gay, suicidal scholar, Toni Collette as Sheryl, the pro-honesty mother, wife and sister, and Abigail Breslin (Signs) delightful as the little girl who may not fit into the mould, but has set her on winning the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant. After all, it is Alan Arkin's adoring, but out-of-control grandfather who has shown her 'all the moves'. Arkin dishes up the works and every screen moment is a treat: 'When you're young, you're crazy to do heroin; when you're old you're crazy not to...' he mutters, and offers unwanted advice to his 15 year old grandson Dwayne (Paul Dano) about sex and things it is not cool for an outspoken grandpa to vocalise. Dwayne's whole world is seething with problems, and he accentuates his vow of silence by scribbling 'I hate everyone' notes.
According to Murphy's Law, everything must go wrong, and it does. There is a mechanical problem with the bus, a mishap with a corpse and more. At our destination, we are surrounded by miniature beauty queens with ringlets and plastic smiles, but the climactic Little Miss Sunshine Pageant itself is a big surprise. It's a scene to anticipate and one that perfectly captures the essence of the film. No wonder audiences everywhere have basked in the sunshine.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Landing a sharp upper cut to America's jutting-jaw mindset of winning at all costs, Little Miss Sunshine has all the juicy elements of a satire that has been fermenting in its own richly sour juice. New York writer Michael Arndt's debut screenplay has the merciless quality of killer satire and in the hands of first time feature film making husband and wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, it is wrangled into a seductively funny movie with a stinging tail. That they can handle suicide, death, failure and rejection with such aplomb only proves how good comedy has to rest on serious business.
The cast is uniformly superb, with Abigail Breslin's Olive almost stealing the show from the frazzled, conflicted couple (Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear), her razor wire grandpa (Alan Arkin), angry older brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) and double loser uncle Frank (Steve Carell), whose suicide attempt followed being overlooked in academe for his expertise on Proust, recognition which went to his ex-lover's new boyfriend. Clearly, this writer knows how to hurt a guy.
The spectre of American characters who are living in the mainstream but are actually losers on their own terms is only one level of entertainment. There are others, including the deadpan exposition of child beauty pageants, which are filmed using real contestants, giving us a genuinely shocking laugh.
Of course, we are rooting for the losers here, and for the notion that 'losing' in some areas of human behaviour is not quite the worst thing that can happen: indeed, winning can be so much worse from a moral point of view. These and other issues underpin the screenplay, which is why it was a runaway hit at the Sundance Film Festival, and the winner of the Urban Cinefile Audience Award for Best Feature Film (World Cinema) at the Sydney Film Festival 2006.
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LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (M)
CAST: Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Marc Turtletaub, Beth Grant, Jill Talley
PRODUCER: Albert Berger, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Ron Yerxa
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
SCRIPT: Michael Arndt
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tim Suhrstedt
EDITOR: Pamela Martin
MUSIC: Mychael Danna, Devotchka
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kalina Ivanov
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 12, 2006