Review – LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2006, USA)

LittleMissSunshineposterThe selling point of Little Miss Sunshine is perfectly encapsulated in its now famous poster: members of the family running after the vintage beat up VM minivan on which they undertake the “impossible” journey from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, the setting of the titular beauty pageant. It’s a liberal road movie with influences from the free-spirited counterculture of the 1970s. It’s also incredibly American. One of the best sequences of the film and one of its first meaningful ones takes place around a dinner table. The meal? Fried chicken and Sprite. It is in this sequence that directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris introduce us to the quirky characters of the film, all of whom have their instantly recognizable traits. Olive (Abigail Breslin) is the adorable aspiring beauty queen; her papa Richard (Greg Kinnear) is an unsuccessful motivational speaker; her mama Sheryl (Toni Colette) is the typical matriarch on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Then there is teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano), who has taken an eccentric vow of silence, and Grandpa (Alan Arkin), who also happens to be a mild heroin addict. The wildcard of

It’s also incredibly American. One of the best sequences of the film and one of its first meaningful ones takes place around a dinner table. The meal? Fried chicken and Sprite. It is in this sequence that directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris introduce us to the quirky characters of the film, all of whom have their instantly recognizable traits. Olive (Abigail Breslin) is the adorable aspiring beauty queen; her papa Richard (Greg Kinnear) is an unsuccessful motivational speaker; her mama Sheryl (Toni Colette) is the typical matriarch on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Then there is teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano), who has taken an eccentric vow of silence, and Grandpa (Alan Arkin), who also happens to be a mild heroin addict. The wildcard of Little Miss Sunshine is the Proust scholar and homosexual brother/brother-in-law, Uncle Frank (Steve Carell), whom we know has just attempted suicide.

The mantra of the film is disappointingly simplistic: it is the typical message of this type of American indie comedy, preaching that it’s okay to lose – especially, as in this case, if you can count on the support of your family. It is to be expected that the road trip will greatly affect the lives of each of the characters, and prove to be a turning point in their life as a collective unit. Equally as predictable is the fact that, as many other films of the type, Little Miss Sunshine reserves no precious moments of quiet and solemnity, during which we may perceive the passing of time and the meaningfulness of the many events that take place on the road. As a result, each one of these events seems trivial and the emergence of one after the other methodical and dull.

Thankfully, Little Miss Sunshine is all about characterization. Through that aforementioned dinner sequence, we know right away all there is to know about each one of these familiar, but somewhat different characters. The difference is the result of the acting itself. In fact, to complement the feel-good simplicity of Michael Arndt’s screenplay, Dayton and Farris assembled a great cast, whose performances are understated but real. Therefore, although the structure of the film is everything but original, the actors bring something very real to the table and their process of self-improvement is, as a result, very satisfying. – ★★★★

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE || 2006, USA || Comedy || Directed by – Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris / Produced by – Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa / Written by – Michael Arndt / Music by – Mychael Danna / Cinematography – Tim Suhrstedt / Edited by – Pamela Martin / Starring – Greg Kinnear, Stere Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin / Running time: 101 mins.

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