The Movie Binge

Review: Little Miss Sunshine

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I'll be honest, I saw this film over two months ago and didn't bother to write a review then. That being said, I think it may have worked to my benefit. At the time, I wasn't impressed with the movie; it tried too hard. Now, after seeing a whole bunch of shlock, I think it's one of the better films of the summer. I guess it's all about perspective.

Little Miss Sunshine, the movie, centers around Olive (Abigail Breslin) and her quest to win Little Miss Sunshine, the children's beauty contest. She qualifies for the national pageant when the girl in front of her drops out and her screwball family must pile into their VW bus to get her there. Grandpa (Alan Arkin) is of the dirty-old-man variety, but is great with Olive. Richard and Cheryl (Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette) play Olive's parents, who are at odds because of Richard's motivational book/shtick called "Refuse to Lose". Finally there's Frank (Steve Carrell), who had just tried to off himself, and Dwayne (Paul Dano), Olive's older brother who has taken a vow of silence until he gets into the Air Force.

What follows is a series of gaffs and failures that nearly keeps the wacky bunch from making it to California. While you always know something else is bound to go wrong, it's rarely in the way you expect. The script is punctuated by the spectacular performance of this ensemble, particularly those of Paul Dano and Alan Arkin. I love the idea of a heroin-snorting, tail-chasing grandfather teaching his granddaughter a talent routine for a beauty pageant, especially when the pay off at the end of the film is so entertaining.

At this point, I was going to discuss the shortcomings of the film, but I can't seem to recall what got me so riled up in the first place. The best I can think up is that the story arc was a bit too predictable -- a potentially peaceful adventure devolves into complete disorder, only to be overcome by the strength of the human spirit. While the overarching theme may be a bit trite, the details made the movie shine. The directors (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) took a stock storyline and beefed it up with standout performances and memorable moments. Instead of being hung up on the big picture, the stoic yet expressive responses from Dwayne and Olive's deadpan delivery stand out in my mind.

I'm not sure if this means that Little Miss Sunshine was a great film or just a memorable one, but does it really matter? If a film leaves an impression over two months later, it should be worth a viewing in the theater so you can find out yourself.