213 of 241 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2006
If you have ever attended a family reunion or sat down at an extended family holiday dinner and thought to yourself "Who are these people? How could I possibly be related to them?" -- then you will probably appreciate the hilarious and poignant indie film "Little Miss Sunshine."
Richard (Greg Kinnear) is the head of a mostly dysfunctional family and the author of a multi-step/self-help program that he espouses with the passion of a zealot. Sheryl (Toni Collette) is Richard's wife and arguably the most normal and high-functioning member of the family. Their son, Dwayne (Paul Dano), is a nihilistic and remote 15-year-old, who has either stopped speaking to his family because he can't stand them or taken a vow of silence to achieve a personal goal - depending on who is explaining his behavior. Olive (Abigail Breslin) is the family's bright and effervescent 7-year-old, who is already starting to pick up some of the family's more unhealthy tics of criticism and self-doubt. Grandpa (Alan Arkin) is Richard's acerbic and outspoken father who was booted out of his retirement home for snorting heroin. Add to this murky Freudian soup Sheryl's brother, Frank (a wonderfully restrained Steve Carell), who is newly released from the hospital after a failed suicide attempt.
When a message is left on the family's phone machine notifying them of Olive's acceptance into the semi-finals of the Little Miss Sunshine talent competition in California, they decide to (mostly) put aside their personal agendas and take Olive to the pageant. The combustible road trip is fueled by the radically different personalities bumping up against each other within the close confines of a VW bus and exacerbated by a variety of obstacles thrown at them in what seems to be a cosmic conspiracy designed to prevent the family from reaching the competition.
When the family finally does arrive at the pageant, the weirdness well and truly begins. Now I am someone who really loves a good horror story, but the 6 and 7 year old contestants were far scarier than anything you might see in a George Romero movie. I will take flesh melting zombies over little girls in full theatrical makeup and provocative costumes (that just screamed "JonBenet Ramsey") any day. The whole pageant atmosphere was Fellini-esque and completely cringe-inducing. When Olive is finally called upon to do her performance piece for the audience (a real show stopper which I won't spoil by detailing), she is actually the most wholesome and entertaining part of the whole pageant.
Although this family bickers with one another almost constantly, they manage to close ranks and support each other when it truly counts. Part of the pleasure of watching this film was the talented cast, who looked like they were really enjoying themselves. A wonderful way to spend 90 minutes -- and you will probably come away with a deeper appreciation of your own family.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2006
Little Miss Sunshine is easily my pick for best film of the year. At the same time, I won't say that you've never seen a movie like this one before. It treads familiar territory and dredges up some recognizable character types, like the silent broody teen and the dirty old man, but it doesn't belabor them; instead it reminds us why we find situations and individuals like these so relatable. It's a road trip movie. It's a dark comedy, but it's also something else altogether.
There are sight gags a plenty and some dysfunctional family fun that walks a fine line between trite and genius, but I (and 93% of the critics on [...]) believe that the performances tip the balance in favor of genius. Alan Arkin is extraordinary as the cantankerous, heroin snorting grandpa with a heart. Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear, as the emotionally fatigued married couple, have an onscreen chemistry that threatens to blow up at any minute. (Boo! Kenney, that's such a cheesy line. You can do better.--I know. I know. But I couldn't resist. Watch the movie and you'll see what I'm talking about.) And we all know Steve Carrell can be funny, but who knew he could play tortured too. And here's something that's entirely refreshing: a seven year-old character, Olive, who is more naïve than she is precocious, and an actress, Abigail Breslin, who pulled it off realistically. She did more than pull it off really. She sold it, and I bought every tear and toothy grin.
The opening sequence introduces the characters and their particular quirks in a series of one-minute shots, so the audience member knows right from the beginning who these people are and basically what's wrong with them. Most of their backstories are taken care of around the dinner table, and then the movie literally hits the road when the whole family piles into a cheerfully yellow VW bus to take Olive to California, where she has a chance, by way of the only stroke of good luck in the entire script, to compete for the title of Little Miss Sunshine and fulfill her beauty queen aspirations.
The storyline tackles some grim and seedy subjects: divorce, suicide, drug-use, romantic pitfalls, failed careers, and we don't always get to laugh our way through them. With this movie, just like in life, you've got to take the good with the bad. In fact, Little Miss Sunshine accomplishes the nearly impossible and makes us grateful for the tragedies that occur, because that's when we get to see who the characters really are. Like in the case of Dwayne (Paul Dano), the teenage son whose vow of silence prevents him from talking for the majority of the film. We don't even get to hear him speak until he experiences his great disappointment, and it's not long after he starts talking that he reveals himself to be much more affectionate and protective of his little sister than his angry facial expressions let on.
You might start to think that Dwayne's got the right idea when you notice that some of the film's best moments are utterly quiet. Nobody ever says the right thing in this movie. No problems are solved just by talking them out. In fact, most of the time talking just leads to more problems. These characters learn to take action, and they get the job done. While the results--you can't really call them solutions--aren't always satisfactory for them, for the audience they are never less than entertaining or cathartic for that matter.
Be prepared to laugh, hard and often, so much so that you won't see it coming when it's time to cry. I realize that at the beginning of my review I made it sound like Little Miss Sunshine might be borderline cliché, but that was just me anticipating other people's possible complaints, certainly not asserting my own. But regardless of how original you do or don't think this movie is, it delivers some big surprises. Some of them you might see coming, but I highly doubt you could guess them all--just wait until you find out what Olive's talent is!
I hate to use the term dramedy. I choose to think a movie like this one actually collapses genres rather than blends them. But nevertheless Sunshine offers a good mix of strong emotion and light-hearted farce for everyone to enjoy. For all you heady types, there's a healthy helping of Proust and Nietzsche in there. For all you who would prefer slapstick, there's a good dose of that too, along with some pretty funny one-liners as well.
This film has a lot to say about life and disillusionment, expectations and harsh realities, but it says it with a smile and sometimes through clenched teeth. Its message never gets lost in all the absurdity, and it wasn't lost on me either.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
"Little Miss Sunshine" has a brilliant cast and contains moments of pure genius. The story follows the exploits of a troubled suburban family as they drive across the country to enter their seven year old daughter in the "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant. I am a big fan of both Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell, but in this case I think Carell did the better job as a formerly suicidal professor (and America's number one Proust expert). My favorite scenes in the film were of the interactions between Carell and Paul Dano as a angst-ridden teenager who has taken a vow of silence related to his desire to become an Air Force pilot (you'll have to watch the film for all the confusing details.) Dano and Carell manage to be both genuinely disturbed and genuinely touching, especially late in the movie.
The plot is more than a bit contrived and formulaic, although the last ten minutes were rather unpredictable. I found the film to get off to a very slow start, and the pace to be somewhat plodding throughout, although the last half hour is more captivating than the first hour. Although this is a movie about a family, this is not a family film, and the R rating is there for several reasons, not the least of which are very mature themes, and excessively foul language, especially from Alan Arkin. I was extremely pleased, though, that the film skewered the unfortunate scourge of sub-teen beauty pageants: I was genuinely creeped out by the young contestants (and their families.) The conclusion of the pageant was shocking and, while amusing, made a serious comment on contemporary mores.
The cast is talented, and the critiques of modern society, particularly the exposure of the false values of the winner and loser, are frequently on the money if you look past the superficial veneer of the movie as strictly a comedy. Despite the obvious talent that went into the movie, I was less enthusiastic than I expected, given my respect for the cast members: the pacing was often slow (particularly at the outset), and the script was full of gratuitous exchanges seemingly placed simply for shock value and a cheap laugh (e.g. Arkin's diatribe to Dano about virility) that went far beyond what was necessary to establish the lack of functional cohesiveness as a family unit. There are moments of unadulterated brilliance in the film, but it is by no means deserving of the highly effusive praise from such luminous sources as "Newsweek" and "USA Today."
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
"Little Miss Sunshine" is yet another quirky indie comedy, this time about a dysfunctional family roadtrip. Every character has the requisite wacky personality and/or oddball mannerisms (as is the case in every film of this type). The plot is minimal and contrived, existing for the sole purpose of forcing this unlikely family together. Handled incorrectly, I would usually loathe this type of film. So I'm pleased to report that "Little Miss Sunshine" is far more successful than it has any right to be. While I still feel as if this "little" picture was slightly overpraised upon it's release, it provides many laughs and works as screwball comedy.
One thing that sets "Sunshine" apart from similar indies is a stellar cast. Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette do fine work as the embattled parents. Abigail Breslin brings a refreshing blend of hope and delusion to the title character. Alan Arkin chews the scenery as the foul mouthed addict father--it's nice to see him again, especially in such a showy in-your-face performance. Steve Carell is surprisingly sympathetic as the depressive gay brother. And Paul Dano delivers the movie's best performance as the disconnected son who has taken a vow of silence. So even though this colorful, supremely eccentric bunch are character "types" as opposed to real people, the actors make it work. The moments of drama that appear succeed only because the actors make you care.
But, first and foremost, this is a comedy. And I forgave the calculated eccentricities because the film is simply funny. Outrageous and slapstick, yet smartly observant, this film earns your respect and laughs. It's a fun ride with many identifiable situations.
Beloved by audiences and most critics upon it's release, I would hesitate to overhype this film for the DVD market. A viewer who discovers this picture is likely to appreciate it's charms more than someone who goes into it having heard it's the best film of the year. "Little Miss Sunshine" is not particularly original (it shares many plot elements from "Vacation," in fact)--but it is extremely well done. KGHarris, 11/06.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2006
The movie starts out strong with a hilarious ensemble cast of eccentric characters. Most of the Hoover family are living a frustrated and miserable existence as they try to make their individual "dreams come true." The only one who is isn't bitter is little 7 year old Olive who wants to win "The Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant. Olive isn't your typical beauty queen. But when the winner of her local pageant is unable to compete in the finals she is given her opportunity. Her father, Richard Hoover, is obsessed with winning. So he insists the family must make a last minute road trip to California so Olive can be a "winner." The road trip portion of the film has it's funny moments. But does tend to bog down, as the family's mechanical troubles and other typical "wacky hi-jinks" aren't nearly as smart and original as the rest of the movie.
The film really starts to run on all cylinders again when the family finally arrives at the pageant. Up until now the Hoover family had largely ignored the pageant world that little Olive longed to be a part of. But upon being exposed to the sick and twisted world of childhood beauty contests they are repulsed. At first they try to protect their daughter. But then allow her to participate so she can fulfill her "dream." By now they have finally realized the error of their self-centered ways and manage to unite as a family that loves and cares about each other.
Along with the importance of family, the central theme of "Little Miss Sunshine" is about our society's obsession with "winners" and "losers". Their desire to be "winners" was actually making the Hoover family miserable. Only when they let go of this obsession with "winning" were the family able to come together and be happy. Brother Dwayne sums it up best when he says it's better to just do what you love and forget the rest. This is a sweet, charming and funny movie, definitely worth seeing.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2006
Others have already left a plot synopsis, so I'll be brief. This is the best movie I've seen in years. This film made me laugh,cry,and want to see more of the talented cast. The storyline is quirky - it's a tearjerker and comedy rolled into one fabulous tale. This is a movie that will go on my "keep" shelf. Although the "F" word is used liberally, it's still a heartwarming story of a band of misfits that happen to be family uniting to make one little girl happy. It's fabulous!
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I caught this movie at a free screening and it has been a long time since I heard people clap and laugh hysterically (lots of snorting) in a theatre. Little Miss Sunshine is a comedy with an indie feel and follows a family as they transport their daughter (Olive played by Abigail Brensen) to a children's beauty pageant via their VW bus. Many van breakdowns and other hijinx occur. The movie is perfectly cast with many good comic actors, Greg Kinnear (determined Father), Steve Carell (suicidal Uncle), Alan Arkin (cracked out Grandfather), Toni Collette (seemingly functional Mother). Abigail Brensen and Paul Dano (Dwayne, Olive's brother) really outshine in their roles. The brother Dwayne does not even speak in his scenes for the majority of the movie but gives fantastic presence regardless. They are a very funny, very dysfunctional family.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2006
I didn't expect to love this film as much as I did - especially as it was my very last choice when I was desperate for a movie. Man, am I glad there wasn't anything else on - it would have been a tragedy to miss this.
The film itself is the tragic tale of a family of screw-ups making their way across the US to attend a children's beauty pageant. The plot is really secondary to its characters. And what a bunch of characters. My personal favourite is Uncle Frank, a suicidal, gay, Proust professor. (Hell, if I spent my life specializing in Proust, I'd be suicidal too). Considering Steve Carrell's surprising restraint in the role I was surprised that every time I saw Frank I started laughing involuntarilty (even when he was just sitting or standing motionless). Condemned to spend most of the film stuck with the family's sulky, misanthropic son who has taken a vow of silence, Frank serves as our semi-normal proxy into the world of this extraordinarily strange family.
The most extraordinary character in this menagerie is Grandpa (Alan Arkin), a foul mouthed heroin using curmudgeon who can't go a single scene without being offensive. In short, I loved him. He had some of the best lines in the film (e.g., "Get me some porn... the real nasty stuff"). He's the sort of character that you can't take your eyes off, even when he's unconscious, in case you miss his next trick. I haven't seen many Alan Alda films, but if this is a gauge of his calibre then I'll be raiding the video store for more.
Toni Collette as the long-suffering mother appears to be the only normal member of the family, although she gives the sense of unravelling at the edges. Olive, the sweet and innocent daughter who wants to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine contest seems to be at the centre of the family and in a weird twist is ultimately their redemption. Rounding off the cast is Greg Kinnear as the Success Coach father, whose attempts at inspiration seem to have the complete opposite effect. Again, like most of the others, he also seems to be coming apart at the seams.
I'm pretty sure there was a message to this film, but I'll be hornswozzled if I can figure it. It seems to be about the pursuit of success, by people who have never had it and probably never will. For all his talk of being a winner, the success coach father's life is one of endless failure... but he keeps plugging away. Olive has no chance in hell of winning the beauty pageant, but she goes for it no matter what. Uncle Frank can't seem to win no matter what he does but at least seems to have resigned himself to failure and ultimately finds some meaning in it. The Neitzche driven son, driven to the edge by his pursuit of success is probably the most tragic loser of the group, but his ultimate destruction is also the most amusing (at least to me).
I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I adore films about losers, and this seemed like the jackpot for me. Even the Simpsons weren't as pathetic as this bunch. Thanks and triple thanks to Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris for bringing me this glorious display of human wretchedness. If only there was a sequel.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2007
LMS is a very "interesting" movie--not necessarily "good" in the conventional sense but interesting. It's more subtle and sophisticated than people seem to give it credit for. It's funny but I wouldn't call it a comedy; it's has plenty of angst and failure but I wouldn't call it a tragedy (or melodrama, or whatever).
Each character is dysfunctional but not to such a degree as to be unbelievable (a la "Running with Scissors"). They each have their own personal conflict to overcome but they are each defeated by it (except the little girl). Even though the characters all fail, they do still emerge stronger and more unified as a family because of it. (It just occurred to me--one of the characters is always reading Nietzsche, who popularized the quote "that which does not kill me makes me stronger.")
LMS is not a "comedy" (although often funny--ESPECIALLY the ending); it's not a National Lampoon roadtrip movie; it's not "glorifying dysfunction" (as another reviewer posted); it's not a social commentary about the exploitive and pseudo-sexual industry of child beauty pageants. IMHO it's much more existential than that.
This, combined with a great cast makes for a very interesting movie. People who pay money for explosions, slap-stick, big breasts, and car chases will hate this movie. If you're not the unthinking drone that Hollywood assumes most (all) of us to be, then LMS is defiantly worth your time.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2006
Little Miss Sunshine is a sweet little comedy starring Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets), Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense), Steve Carell (40-year Old Virgin), Alan Arkin (Glengarry Glen Ross), and young actors Paul Dano and Abigail Breslin (Signs).
The movie revolves around a typical American dysfunctional family: Richard, the dad, who is a terrible motivational speaker, always lectures his family members on the 9 steps to success, even though he's a failure himself; Sheryl, the mom, is completely passive; Dwayne, the son, hates his family and chooses not to speak to them at all; Uncle Frank tried to committ suicide over a male graduate student of his; Grandpa is a heroine snorter; and Olive, the chubby daughter and only hope for some ordinary life in the house, wants to become California's Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant.
After being informed that Olive has been picked as a contestant, the family hit the road to the beauty contest in a van that needs to be pushed to get going, and doesn't stop honking. In the midst of all this mess, the family has a chance to redeem itself and start acting...well, normal!
I enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine. It's a comedy that doesn't present itself as satirical or a farce. It works well with the excellent cast (I expect some Oscar nods, especially for Collette, Arkin, and young Breslin), funny dialogue, and road setting.