LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
STARRING Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell and Toni Collette
DIRECTED BY Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Opens Friday, August 18
Most people think their family is a little messed up, but one glimpse into the world of Little Miss Sunshine should make just about anyone feel better about their home life.
At the head of this family is Richard (Greg Kinnear), a down-on-his-luck inspirational speaker whose hopes and dreams are riding on landing a book deal for his patented nine-step program for financial and personal success. His dad (Alan Arkin) is a heroin-sniffing porn junkie who lives in the basement after being kicked out of his retirement community. He spends the bulk of his day coaching the beauty pageant talent routine of his pre-teen granddaughter Olive (Abigail Breslin). Her older brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) loves Nietzsche but hates his family and has decided to take a vow of silence until he can leave home to become a pilot.
Add to the mix Uncle Frank (Steve Carell), the worlds leading Proust scholar, who has a suicidal episode after his boyfriend dumped him. Playing mom, wife, nursemaid and negotiator to this bunch, Sheryl (Toni Collette) ably holds them together until a cross-country road trip to get Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine competition lands all six of them in an aging VW van for the weekend.
Putting characters through a dysfunctional family pressure cooker isnt a new idea, but what makes Little Miss Sunshine succeed where most flying-argument movies fail is the strength of the cast. You would be hard-pressed to find a more talented group of actors more suited to their roles. They ably milk the comic potential in the script for all its worth, but by adding their capable weight to the more serious moments, the film can pinwheel from over-the-top to subtly poignant almost effortlessly.
Carells low-key sarcasm is a perfect foil for Kinnears brash self-confidence, Arkins foul-mouthed monologues trigger Collettes wide-eyed frustration and Breslins charming innocence is perfect way to diffuse Danos sour grimace. When they play it for laughs its uproarious and perfectly timed, but when they need to turn it around to play for keeps, each actor has been given the time they need to make their characters journey complete.
So, while writer Michael Arndt is constantly putting these characters in outlandish situations, the cast adds some much-needed humanity. Those great performances along with delicate direction make Little Miss Sunshine more than an updated version of National Lampoons Vacation. The also make it one of the best movies of the summer.