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I went to a screening of this film at Sundance earlier this year, and
this is what I wrote about it immediately following:
This was a little less indie, cast-wise, but was jarringly real in a way that Hollywood rarely fosters. The story is of a limply-functional family, whose good leg is dysfunctional, and of the way that their love for each other is solid, somewhere underneath the varying shades of crazy. This film. Oh, this film! I have never laughed harder, and at such true-to-life comedy--nothing silly or goofy or forced or fake about the lines. It felt more like watching a documentary (minus all the familiar faces) and every time the laughter became almost unbearable, a little dash of agony or melancholic sadness was thrown in, and spawned aching tears. I sigh still, thinking of how completely in control of my insides that cast, that writer, that director all were. They owned my ass, and I will love them forever for it.
I can't wait to see it again. Do NOT miss it.
It is very rare to see a movie that can charm the hell out of an
audience without the use of special effects, worn-out clichés and
bombastic action set pieces these days. It's even more ridiculous to
hope that you will see such a film for FREE. But that's exactly what
happened to me tonight at a sneak preview of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.
I "discovered" this movie right here at IMDb, having heard not a peep about it beforehand. By the time I finished watching the second trailer for the THIRD time, I was floored...and hooked. Luckily, the Bulletin Boards steered me toward the proper link to access sneak passes for tonight's showing, and all I can say is that it will not pain me one bit to pay for the privilege of seeing this gem a second time.
Assembling the best and most unlikeliest of ensemble casts you may probably see all year, SUNSHINE on the face of it is a relatively (pun intended) simple story. Little seven-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) has one wish in life: to be considered for the finals of the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant in Redondo Beach, CA. When her big chance comes at the most unexpected time, it's up to her unbelievably fractured family to pull themselves together and make it happen for her, no matter what it takes.
And what it takes is a sad, painful, tragic and yet unendingly hilarious trek in a barely operational VW bus from Albequerque, NM to the Pageant. And although getting there is only half the fun and family drama, you have got to see what happens to believe it when they finally arrive and Olive gets to "do her thing." The strong cast sounds not a single false note, and when the more touching moments arrive, they don't seem forced the way they would in most other big-budget behemoths, because these moments are truly earned. But WHAT a collection of characters this is. Greg Kinnear is letter-perfect as Olive's judgmental, failed motivational-speaker father; Steve Carell finds new shades of darkest despair and human comedy as her suicidal gay uncle, a leading Proust scholar; Paul Dano does amazing things with little more than facial expressions as Olive's older brother who's deep into Nietzche and a vow of absolute silence, and Alan Arkin, though he has played this kind of role with both hands tied behind his back and his eyes closed, still shines like a crazy diamond as her cantankerous and hedonistic grandfather.
And barely holding this motley crew together is Toni Collette, who amazes by playing a mother again and yet manages not to portray the role exactly the same way, (you might recall her Oscar-nominated turn as Haley Joel Osment's put-upon mom in THE SIXTH SENSE.) I'm not at all familiar with the work of the two directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, or the writer, Michael Arndt, but they have definitely raised the indie film bar with this effort. Not a single moment is wasted; not a single scene is in this film without having a reason for being there, and it's all character-driven. There's also nothing fluffy about it - commentary about everything from how twisted our pop culture can be, to how our drive for being #1 winners can blind us to all of the things that are the most important are all there under the bittersweet laughs and tears for the audience to discover.
I can't recommend this one highly enough. And I can't wait to see it again.
I saw Little Miss Sunshine a week ago at the Sydney Film Festival, and
the audience I saw it with loved it. There was a lot of laughter going
on - especially at the hilarious ending. And amidst the jokes it deals
smartly with it's theme of the value of chasing your dreams and being
one of life's 'winners' versus valuing what you already have. Or put
another way, it celebrates the joys of losing in a culture obsessed
I'm not going to go into detail about the plot, as the film hasn't been widely released yet. There are no huge plots twists, but I think you'll have more fun with this film if you don't know exactly where it's going.
As the film started I wasn't so sure about it. All the characters (apart from Toni Colette's perhaps) seemed to be written as being amusingly quirky in a predictable indie-comedy way. But as the movie went on it became easier to warm to them. I think it helped that the actors appeared to be having genuine fun together. These guys don't feel like much of a family at first, and I wondered a couple of times why these people would bother sticking together, but as things progress the strengths of this particular family unit become obvious. And just as all comedies should, it gets funnier as it goes on. I was pleased to see the script stayed true to it's messages all the way to the end, and didn't turn preachy or maudlin. The whole cast work excellently together, and I hope this film has all the success it deserves once it's released.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I hate to admit it, but my primary interest in showing up for the
screening was to see Steve Carell try his hand at a semi-serious role
as the suicidal gay literature professor.
But it's not Steve Carell's film. It's a startling departure for him, a nuanced and heartfelt performance that's just as strong as his career-making turn in 40 Year Old Virgin. Likewise, this film does not in any way belong to Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, or Alan Arkin, all of whom are at the absolute top of their games and each of whom is allowed many moments within the ensemble structure to create a complex and compelling character. Hell, the film doesn't even belong to Paul Dano, who's just as good as his more experienced co-stars even though he doesn't have a single line of dialogue in the first 80% of the movie.
No, this film is owned wholly and entirely by a nine-year-old actress named Abigail Breslin. I think a lot of viewers might miss it because she's surrounded by enormously talented performers and is "golly gee whiz" "aw shucks" cute, but this performance is, all hyperbole aside, Oscarworthy. The entire film hangs on her emotional vulnerability and she is achingly real in every moment of joy, sorrow, confusion, desolation, and determination. The closest comparison I can think of is Amy Adams in Junebug. She's that good.
OK, I seem to be writing this review backwards. Let's see if I can pull together a plot description. The film is basically a dark comedy dysfunctional family road trip. It starts out resoundingly bleak. Richard (Kinnear) is a wannabe motivational speaker who in his desperate drive for excellence has become deeply alienated from his family. His wife Sheryl (Collette) tries to keep their family together but is so frustrated with her husband and nerve- shredded by the stresses of her home that it seems like she will cave in at any moment. Also in the home is Steve's elderly father, who is perpetually profane and angry and copes with the disappointments of his life by snorting heroin. Richard and Sheryl are raising two children, the cute but seemingly unremarkable Olive (Breslin) and the perpetually silent, glum, and angry Dwayne (Dano), who is marking off the days until he can go join the Air Force and escape this familial hellhole. Into this enclave of joy and bliss enters Sheryl's brother Frank, who has just been released from the hospital after trying to slit his wrists due to his unrequited love for one of his grad students. When Sheryl tells her brother that she's glad he's alive, he tonelessly responds "that makes one of us."
These are the characters. I know they must seem like pathetic indie stereotypes, but over the course of the film each of them is revealed as a multi-dimensional person struggling miserably but nobly to make the best of a life that is not working out the way they had hoped. And despite the gloomy set-up, this twisted thing becomes the most life-affirming film I've seen since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
It's not a perfect film by any means. At times it feels a little contrived, as if several years of trauma were compressed into two days. And while the climax undeniably represents the most ruthless skewering of beauty pageants in the history of cinema, skewering beauty pageants doesn't in itself really qualify as daring satire.
Nonetheless, the film packs an emotional wallop that's going to take a lot of people by surprise.
And I haven't even mentioned that it happens to be the funniest movie of the year.
Here is a film that lives up to the expectations of a very funny
trailer. It's an oddball comedy, and it's dark, and it's funny, and
it's touching, and it will charm the pants off many in the audience.
Here is a simple story in which our lovely contestant and her family
try to find their way to California so that she can prove to the world
she is not a loser! The premise itself can lead to years of therapy for
a family that should get a group rate in psychiatric care.
Expert editing and superb comedic performances from all the principals involved will have many overlook the fact that the plot line is a little too contrived at times. The set pieces will have the audience howling with laughter as we see different characters trying to overcome some pretty irreverent obstacles. The scene at the gas station contains moments of deep sadness and offbeat humor, something that Carrell pulls off wonderfully, and none will be able to look at the trunk of a car, some dubious literary material, and highway patrol the same way after seeing the infamous scene in the film.
The best is of course, saved for last, and by this time we are waiting for something outrageous which "Little Miss Sunshine" delivers unapologetically. A classic track will probably be recharged for a new generation, as the bonds of family precariously balance a moment that could be as tacky as they come.
"Sunshine" is one of the best things to come out of American cinema this year, an original film that relies on a script that understands the differences between generations in the same family. It doesn't explain why each character is as quirky as can be, and it doesn't build much background because it is not needed to make the film work. Kinnear, Colette, Abigail, Arkin, and Correll are a fine team and keep the film's feel fresh throughout the film. Here is a family that has no special qualities or powers, a family that will make us rejoice that creativity is still alive in Hollywood, a film that will provide us with plenty of much needed sunshine in an otherwise pretty dull summer.
Do yourself a huge favor and go and see this film and then tell your friends about it. It has no special effects!!! No HUGE stars (though Kinnear and Arkin are famous and perfectly cast) This film has just great characters, unusual but perfectly understandable circumstances,fantastic dialog, wonderful actors,stunning cinematography, effortless direction and seamless editing.This film was very well received by the audience I sat with. I laughed,I cried and laughed until I cried. I heard that this film only cost three million dollars to make...it just goes to show that tens of millions need not be spent to get a treasure. Go see it and be thoroughly entertained. This is one good old-fashioned movie for everyone over 13 (if you preempt the grandfather's language, which is really part of his character). Hope it gets some nominations!!!
We were happy to have had the chance to see this at the 2006 Sundance
Film Festival. I loved the cast: Greg Kinear, Toni Collette, Alan
Arkin, Abigail Breslin, Paul Dano and Steve Carrell were ALL marvelous
as the dysfunctional family. Little Miss Sunshine refers to a pageant
to be held in California (the movie never states where the family
lives, but most of the road scenes were definitely in the Phoenix,
Arizona area. (added 8/2/06: I know now that the movie is set in New
Mexico, for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing!)
The story follows little Olive, a normal child, who by a fluke wins her way into the finals of the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. The family decides they must accompany her in their old VW bus, so a road trip ensues.
The final third of the movie, which deals with the actual pageant, is by far the funniest part of the film. It illustrates, with great hilarity, the frightening people who are involved in child pageants. You can't help rooting for Olive, who is refreshingly normal amongst the frighteningly plastic other contestants.
(After discovering that I was in the (opposite of loved it) category on IMDb, I changed my subject line, because this was one of the best movies I've seen all year!! I LOVED IT)
This is NOT a movie for children. After reading through some other user comments, I have to say I'm dismayed by the amount of people complaining about the F word. This movie is rated R, mostly because of its frequent use of the F word, along with some drug use. If you do 5 minutes of research before you go to a movie, you should educate yourself as to WHY a movie is rated the way it is. If you are offended by swearing, then, if you go to a movie that is rated R because of language, be prepared to be offended! Okay, I'm off the soapbox. This is NOT a movie for children.
It would be unfair to limit the film to one adjective. But charming is
the first one that comes to mind. I really don't know how they did it,
but the screenwriter Michael Arndt and directing team Dayton/Faris
(Jonathan and Valerie, that is) have managed to create a movie in which
we are simply so connected to the characters it's frightening. This is
a very quirky bunch, and while their traits can be found in everyone we
know, they are certainly extremely weird and I certainly don't know any
families who are quite as odd as the Hoovers. And yet, we forge such a
strong bond with each and every one of them, right from the opening
pre-title introduction sequence probably the best character
introduction sequence I've seen since Magnolia. These people are just
so real! It's unbelievable just how three-dimensional these characters
are. They remind me of The Squid and the Whale another recent movie
that comes to mind when I think of this type of character development
these are just normal, regular people, and the filmmakers developed
them as such in the most in-depth, well thought-out and just ingenious
That brings me to the second adjective: Realism. If you've seen the film you know that some pretty wacky things go on in it, but in the end, these people are just plain real. They are real human beings at least we the viewing audience come to believe. If they weren't so incredibly well thought out and detailed and rounded, we wouldn't forge such a strong bond with them. But fact of the matter is, the Hoovers have quickly become one of the most memorable cinematic families. Their traits. Their flaws. Their dreams and ambitions. Their dynamics, mannerisms, nuances. Every tiny little detail about these people is just so incredibly portrayed.
Obviously, it would be unfair to say that a comedy isn't funny. When Little Miss Sunshine gets funny, it's hilarious we're talking pitch-black dark and very quirky comedy, but it works admirably, reaching sort of a peak in the infamous, hilarious and totally wacky traffic cop scene.
The acting is. Simply put, amazing. You won't see any Oscar moments here, no characters that have some particular traits that require various forms of "method acting" to perform. This is simply actors playing a bunch of people who they are clearly quite unlike, but playing them as if they are. The shining star is young Abigail Breslin, who out-acts pretty much all of her older cast-mates. How she can embody a completely other character at such a young age is completely beyond me and she's been doing it since age 6! Dakota Fanning, watch out! Paul Dano, the other young actor, also delivers an amazing performance. Myself being fresh out of that period of my life, I can say that his portrayal of a frustrated teenager specifically in the scene where he just explodes (those who have seen the movie will know what I'm talking about) is just so true and realistic. Arkin is brilliant as the old grandfather, who is at once quite annoying and vulgar and at once the most human of all the characters. The three adult leads also deliver wonderful, nuanced performances Toni Colette, who has quite a streak of wonderful performances in various films, particularly impressed me.
But what makes the film so special is its message and even more so, how it delivers it. Basically, the film's message can be summed up in one brilliant line delivered by Arkin's character, Grandpa Edwin: "A real loser is someone who's so afraid of not winning he doesn't even try." This is a family who see tragedy after failure after disappointment, and it's just so, so sad to see them so down, because we love them all and we know that they don't deserve it, despite all their flaws. Seriously, this movie is absolutely brutal to its characters. But ultimately, it's absolutely inspiring. Because despite disappointment after tragedy after blow to the stomach, this family just keeps their head up and say "so what; we'll find another way". Their determination and devotion despite all the obstacles in their way, and their ultimate removal from their anxieties and un-winding is simply and absolutely inspirational, and extremely heartwarming.
The flaw of many independent films that carry a message is that they insist upon themselves. Sometimes it works admirably a recent example I can recall is The Fountain; it's undeniably pretentious, but by fulfilling its own expectations it works as a message film. Little Miss Sunshine delivers its message in simply the most incredibly, charmingly sweet, pure, honest, and innocent way you could ever imagine. It's just so pure. And that's really the single most engaging and appealing aspect of what is already an amazing piece of work.
Keeping up with the recent buzz-worthy films coming out of Sundance the
past couple years, Little Miss Sunshine is a gem of a movie. After
loving crowd favorites Primer (2004) and Hustle and Flow (2005), I
wasn't quite sure if the hat trick would be made. Sunshine seemed to
have the cast, and direction (the debut of husband/wife team Valerie
Faris and Jonathan Dayton, who have helmed some of my favorite music
videos including the Smashing Pumpkins' Tonight, Tonight and the Red
Hot Chili Peppers' Otherside), but the big question would be if it had
the laughs to sustain the quirky indie comedy from not being
overwrought and boring. While the film definitely has a couple moments
where I was about to be lost, everything ends up happening for a
reason; emotions are on a roller coaster ride and the lows always come
out with meaning and momentum for the highs. Do yourself a favor and
see this sweet, subtle at times and gut-bustingly hilarious at others,
perfectly pitched ensemble piece.
The co-directors set us up for what is to come in a very nicely designed opening sequence by going character to character, showing us each person in a small vignette of their personalities. This is the quintessential messed-up family with good intentions. Mom and Dad are bickering on how to tell their young daughter about her uncle's attempted suicide, while he sits and stares in a strange melancholy next to the mute, troubled son, (on vow of silence in honor of nihilistic mind Nietzsche), while grandpa spews profanities about the lack of dinner variety. I mean this is the epitome of every family function I've ever been privy to. There is so much a viewer can relate to in each member, allowing for a certain amount of compassion for the views of all involved and seeing that each really does want the best for one another, even if they have a messed up way of showing it.
Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette are wonderful as the patriarchs, proving as always that they are probably two of the most under-appreciated actors working today. Very rarely do you get to see them in a starring vehicle, and even though this is an ensemble through and through, they definitely carry it as the driving force. Alan Arkin does his kooky, quasi-angry, sarcastic yelling that he is known for, kind of his role from Edward Scissorhands but r-rated and un- pc. Everything he has done comes to a surprising result at the eponymous beauty pageant for the biggest laughs of the movie, really great stuff subverting the grotesque surrealism surrounding any pageant of this kind. Paul Dano is great as the troubled teen, trying to find a place in the world for himself, and coming to grips with the need for struggle in order to grow as a person, and Abigail Breslin is phenomenal as the happiest girl alive. Once she finds out she has won her regional on default, (those primary school children and their diet pills), she is on cloud nine as the family makes the road trip all for her. She has the acting range of a pro and actually does the Dakota Fanning, but better, as she can act while still being a young child and not an adult in a child's body. Her emotional reactions are spot-on and she has remarkable presence and a self-effacing nature that allows her to be who she is and not be ashamed about it, which is the main purpose of Olive Hoover.
The real revelation to take from the antics on screen is a career-role for funnyman Steve Carrell. I've always liked his naïve, teddy-bear persona used to successfully in the Daily Show, The Office, and as the only funny part of Anchorman. Here however, he shows that he has the acting chops to not be pigeonholed and typecast in the over-the-top, lug roles his peer Will Ferrell will never be able to breakout of. Carrell has genuine talent and his suicidal, top Proust scholar in America, uncle is the shining moment of the film. He maintains the dejected quality throughout; even when doing something for the family, doing good, he is always a beaten man. That kind of character is what is needed for all his sharp, dry sarcastic retorts thrown about. He barely outshines the prop of the year, though, the family's yellow VW van. You will not see better prop-gags as the van takes a licking and keeps on ticking although the tick is faint and slowly fading away.
Little Miss Sunshine lives up to the strong buzz that surrounds it. It is heartwarming and funny at every turn. There are some dark moments, though, as there are in life. This film is a slice of reality, heightened just the right amount, for all to enjoy. While definitely in the vein of films such as I Heart Huckabees, Thumbsucker, and any Wes Anderson filmit wears its indie cred on its sleeveit is still accessible and hopefully with the drawing power of Carrell will garner an audience that would not otherwise see it.
Comedies about families usually come in one of two genres. Often
featuring dysfunctional families (are those two words redundant?), they
are either broad and goofy ("Cheaper by the Dozen") or dark and
abstruse ("The Royal Tenenbaums"). Driving its Volkswagon bus down the
middle of these two extremes is "Little Miss Sunshine", a comedy both
inclusive and exclusive, one that some will get entirely, while others
will whiff on to the same degree.
The title stems from a beauty pageant in which seven-year old Olive (Abigail Breslin of "Signs") competes. For a good portion of the film, the contest serves as a MacGuffin of sorts, putting an already odd mix of family members on the road in bizarre situations that call Vegas Vacation to mind.
But "Sunshine" is far more than the slapstick of "Vacation". It mixes humor both broad and subtle humor into a strange brew of comedy, poignancy, lessons, and life. Huge and deep issues are addressed, topics like death, dreams, and failure. Yet somehow the movie doesn't feel heavy. You'll walk out with a smile on your face because the movie sensibly touches on these issues, realizing that stuff happens and life continues, that the handling of adversity is often what defines people. And above all, there is family, which you're stuck with, for better and worse.
"Sunshine" may not grab you right away, which is part of its power. It burns slowly, introducing the family members to the viewing outsiders through observation, then putting the viewers in the bus with them as they enter a foreign world. All this is done without lapsing into melodrama and without losing steam as the movie chugs toward the climactic final scene, continuously building momentum along the way, before promptly getting out on top.
Rather crude at times, "Sunshine" is not a movie for children, nor is it for anyone who takes life or movies too seriously. But if you excel at finding the askance humor in life and film, then you will relish this offbeat look at a collection of family dynamics perhaps only slightly stranger than most, although definitely more extreme.
Bottom Line: One of the year's best, and likely its best comedy. 8 of 10.
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