After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.
David O. Russell
Robert De Niro
In Albuquerque, Sheryl Hoover brings her suicidal brother Frank to the breast of her dysfunctional and emotionally bankrupted family. Frank is homosexual, an expert in Proust. He tried to commit suicide when he was rejected by his boyfriend and his great competitor became renowned and recognized as number one in the field of Proust. Sheryl's husband Richard is unsuccessfully trying to sell his self-help and self-improvement technique using nine steps to reach success, but he is actually a complete loser. Her son Dwayne has taken a vow of silence as a follower of Nietzsche and aims to be a jet pilot. Dwayne's grandfather Edwin was sent away from the institution for elders (Sunset Manor) and is addicted in heroin. When her seven-year-old daughter Olive has a chance to dispute the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, California, the whole family travels together in their old Volkswagen Type 2 (Kombi) in a funny journey of hope of winning the talent contest and to make a dream ...Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Steve Carell and Toni Collette portray siblings. In The Way, Way Back (2013), they are single parents that are dating. See more »
When Dwayne begins reading in the bus he is in the middle of his book. In the next shot he is at the beginning, and in the next shot the middle again. See more »
There are two kinds of people in this world, winners and losers.
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The DVD contains four alternate endings:
Alternate Ending # 1 had the family stop at a rest stop the next day as they're driving back home. Richard talks fondly about Grandpa, and then the family toasts to his memory. You actually can't hear the dialogue, since the only audio option is for the director's commentary on this ending. Basically, the filmmakers thought that it was too sappy (since it was too sunny during the scene) and so they stopped filming.
Alternate Ending #2 had the family handcuffed at the security office at the hotel. The security guard tells them that Olive is disqualified from the competition and that they are released, under the condition that they are banned from entering beauty pageants in California again. He releases the family members, and they start to walk out of the lobby. Sheryl places a crown on Richard's head, who in turn places it on Olive's head. As they exit the hotel, Richard asks "who wants ice cream?"
Alternate Ending #3 had Olive running out into the lobby of the hotel, acting as a lookout, as you can hear everyone else arguing off-screen about stealing the trophy. She signals that the coast is clear, and so the others run out of the hotel carrying the trophy (while Frank wears the crown).
Alternate Ending #4 is the same as #3, but it's extended. Title cards detail the family stealing the trophy from the room, running down the hall, running out of the hotel, running into the van, and driving off.
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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