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Little Miss Sunshine

Even with "Oscar season" yet to come, it"s safe to say that Little Miss Sunshine is one of the year"s very best. This inspirational, hilariously sad dysfunctional-family-road-trip dramedy offers absolutely everything--except pretension.


The Hoover household is something of an insane asylum, but nobody would ever knowingly hurt anyone except him- or herself. Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a deluded optimist and motivational speaker who only motivates himself. His wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) unwittingly reinforces his behavior by placating him and hiding her frustration. Sheryl"s dad (Alan Arkin), an acid-tongued old-timer who"s hooked on heroin, and brother (Steve Carell), a gay, suicidal Proust scholar who is the epitome of the "crazy uncle" cliché, are also aboard the crazy train. Richard and Sheryl"s son, Dwayne (Paul Dano), is a Nietzsche follower who only communicates with his family by writing. Then there"s the daughter, Olive (Abigail Breslin), the family"s glue. All she wants is to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, so the Hoovers all load their baggage onto the family"s VW bus--which barely runs--and embark on a long, bumpy ride to California.


If only there were a Best Ensemble Oscar, Sunshine"s cast would…get snubbed for being too quirky, but still. And by constantly upstaging one another, the actors may have further hurt their chances. It is this no ego effect, however, that is central to the movie"s theme and success. While all the performances are nothing short of superb, the three showstoppers are Collette, Carell and Breslin. Aussie Collette continues her brilliantly understated career with this turn as a well-meaning Everymom who ultimately only wants to nurture her family. Carell, perhaps the only one with a fighting chance at an Oscar nod, shows us why he"s really a megastar: he can act, with a complete about-face from his usual roles as evidence. (Lest we forget, this is a guy who up until recently was a fake-news correspondent!) And Breslin (Signs) is simply an amazing young talent who provides all the wide-eyed caffeine the film needs and then some, but does so with precious maturity. It"s as if she inspired the title.


There"s a quirky behind-the-scenes story, too: Sunshine"s directors--plural--are married to one another! Husband-and-wife duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are widely known music-video directors, but not the type who would make their big-screen transition with something like, say, Torque; thankfully, they chose substance over style. If not for these very gifted directors, Sunshine could"ve come unhinged where so many pedestrian "dysfunctional family" indies do: by turning the characters, each with a laundry list of defining quirks, into caricatures. But thanks in equal parts to the direction, acting and flawless script (from first-timer Michael Arndt), there is so much truth to each character. Most notable, though, is the linear nature of the story; these directors clearly don"t need swooping twists to convey their themes and profundity, and that is rare and remarkable. The climax with which it all culminates can only be described as unforgettable.

Bottom Line rated this film 4 stars.