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Little Miss Sunshine [2006] - 5.98

Pile together a blue-ribbon cast, a screenplay high in quirkiness, and the Sundance stamp of approval, and you've got yourself a crossover indie hit. That formula worked for Little Miss Sunshine, a frequently hilarious study of family dysfunction. Meet the Hoovers, an Albuquerque clan riddled with depression, hostility, and the tattered remnants of the American Dream; despite their flakiness, they manage to pile into a VW van for a weekend trek to L.A. in order to get moppet daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) into the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Much of the pleasure of this journey comes from watching some skillful comic actors doing their thing: Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette as the parents (he's hoping to become a self-help authority), Alan Arkin as a grandfather all too willing to give uproariously inappropriate advice to a sullen teenage grandson (Paul Dano), and a subdued Steve Carell as a jilted gay professor on the verge of suicide. The film is a crowd-pleaser, and if anything is a little too eager to bend itself in the direction of quirk-loving Sundance audiences; it can feel forced. But the breezy momentum and the ingenious actors help push the material over any bumps in the road. -- Robert Horton

Customer reviews (av rating: 4.0):

Rating: 4:
A touching, amusing tale! : What a disfunctional family! A great film, and definitely worth watching. Some cringe-worthy moments. What are you waiting for?!

Rating: 5:
Thoroughly recommended : I can't think of any reason not to recommend this film wholeheartedly. It is fantastic. Watch it, you will enjoy it, especially if you have kids.

Rating: 5:
"Are you gonna win?" : This is one of the funniest movies I have seen in the last few years. This is the result of a combination of fascinating characters, great dialogues and outstanding performances by an all-star cast. On top of that, the final scene is so unexpected and hilarious that you will be rolling on the floor laughing.

Olive is a seven-year-old girl whose hobby is to compete in pageants. She spends a lot of time practicing her routine and watching recordings of the Miss America pageant and mimicking the gestures of the competitors. She has one of the most dysfunctional and peculiar families you can think of. Her father, Richard, has created a nine-step program to transform people into winners. He is trying to get a publisher for the book, "Refuse to Lose", and the economic future of the family depends on the success of this enterprise. Her mother, Sheryl, likes to be brutally honest, feeds her family chicken out of a bucket every night and hides her smoking habit. Sheryl also has to deal with the suicide attempt by her brother, uncle Frank. Olive's grandpa also lives with the family. The old man is Olive's coach and has a drug addiction. Finally, there is the brother, Dwayne, who has promised not to talk until he is accepted into the Air Force and who idolizes the German philosopher Nietzsche.

The dialogues are so good that it is unreal. For example, the honest approach of Sheryl led to a discussion during dinner in which Frank ended up explaining about his suicide attempt. But this carried further, since one of the reasons for it was being rejected by his male lover. Imagine the faces and comments of a seven-year-old when hearing about this! During this dinner, Olive finds out that the girl she lost to in the regional Little Miss Sunshine pageant has withdrawn from the finals. Now Olive has the chance to take her place and compete for the national title. The result is a road trip to California with the whole family in an old yellow van.

There are a variety of complications during the trip and we get so see how the different members of the family react to stress. Once again, the conversations are what drive the interest, and grandpa (Alan Arkin) stands out with his incomparable sarcasm. Arkin's is the best performance of the bunch, but the other members of the cast do not lag far behind. Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell play their roles convincingly, and Paul Dano really shows us how a conflicted teenager behaves. Abigail Breslin deservedly got an Oscar nomination for her performance, and she joins the group of outstanding kids in movies, like Elijah Wood, Macaulay Culkin and Ivana Baquero. If you want to have a good time and laugh for a while there are few options better than this one. Highly recommended!

Rating: 5:
Great entertainment, and with a bit of a bite too : A thoroughly enjoyable film from start to finish - ideal light-hearted entertainment but with plenty of interest all the way through.

Greg Kinnear plays the frustrated motivational speaker who seems to have lost every chance to market his training materials. His wife, Toni Collette, plays his long suffering wife, and mother to Olive, a seven year old dancer with aspirations to win the Little Miss Sunshine competition in California, a 900 mile drive away (and yes, this film is a road movie for a considerable portion of its length).
Olive's brother is an angst-ridden teenager who has given up on the power os speech, and together with his suicidal uncle who comes along for the ride the scene is set for an interesting couple of days in an old VW camper-van. Oh yes, throw into the mix, the hard-bitten grandfather who has a mouth as bad as any and a temper to go with it.

One disaster follows another, but Olive turns out to be the hero of the hour defying all obstacles to appear in the Little Miss Sunshine finals. The dysfunctional family find her performance to be a unifying force and we the audience also find it inspiring, but not perhaps in a Billy Elliot way. Toni Collette deserves a special mention for her part which in some ways pulls the whole fllm together and grounds it in some sort of reality.

Definitely a film for a bit of light relief, and one to watch when the heart needs lifting a little, or when the powers of concentration are not too strong.

Rating: 3:
Over hyped but entertaining : This film would have been much better delivered by Christopher Guest and Co - it's a schmaltzy version of Best in Show meets Uncle Buck, wholesome american feel-good dysfunctional family comedy (plus Grampa Simpson-style foul mouthed Alan Arkin). As a satire of Miss World shows, talent pageants and the like it is hardly original, and although its wacky characters all promise potentially promising comic avenues they turn out to be rather disappointing cul de sacs. The acting is competent, Greg Kinnear coming off best, Carell and Toni Colette largely wasted and the plot strains to be funny, descending into farce at times. However the Miss Sunshine pageant itself is good and lil Olive's peformance memorable before the rather low key finish. Enjoyable but lightweight. Maybe 3 and a half stars.

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