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flick pick | Little Miss Sunshine 2006
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Written by: Michael Arndt
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Greg Kinnear, Steve Carrell, Alan Arkin
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: comedy, drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: darkly comic, feel-good
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis Potbellied and bespectacled, seven-year old Olive isn’t exactly your typical beauty pageant contestant. But ever since she entered a local kids’ pageant while visiting her aunt, she’s been entranced with the glittery world of sashes and tiaras, talent contests and fancy gowns. Poring over tapes of Miss America pageants, she mimics the winner’s teary-joyous reaction; each day, she spends time with her feisty grandpa, diligently practicing the special talent routine he’s helped her work out. So when Olive finds herself with a last-minute fluke opportunity to enter the regional Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, California, she’s beyond ecstatic. The only problem is, she has just a couple days to get herself out to California, and flying, it turns out, is out of the question. While her mom Sheryl is determined to help Olive realize her dream, she can’t operate the fussy stick on the family’s old VW van. Meanwhile, the other members of her family are battling their own individual problems, and are reluctant to take the time away from their own lives to help out. Dad Richard is a beleaguered motivational speaker who’s been trying desperately to get the big book deal he’s sure will launch him towards success; he’s eagerly awaiting the call from his agent any day now, and refuses to acknowledge that this isn’t looking likely, and that his delusions are putting a big strain on his marriage. Sullen big brother Dwayne just doesn’t want anything to do with his family at all; influenced by what he’s read of Nietzsche, he’s spent the last several months in a state of self-imposed silence. Then there’s Uncle Frank, Sheryl’s brother, the world’s leading Proust scholar (or second leading; this debate itself is a major source of poor Frank’s troubles), whose life has gone to complete pot ever since he made the mistake of falling in love with a handsome graduate student; after an attempted suicide – just the last in a long string of Frank’s recent failures – he’s come to find himself under watch in his sister’s home. Somehow, however, the entire clan finds themselves piling into the old VW clunker, and on a crazy road trip towards that will culminate in the strangest event yet: the Little Miss Sunshine pageant itself.

Review Yes, quirky dysfunctional families have become almost cliché in the indie comedy world, but as Tolstoy once wrote: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy families is unhappy in its own way.” Which may explain why no matter how many of these types of movies I’ve seen, I continue to be kind of a sucker for them, whether it’s The Royal Tenenbaums, The Daytrippers, or the latest popular success in the genre, Little Miss Sunshine. Though it breaks no new ground, it offers a fabulous and memorable cast of characters, each beautifully played and lovingly imbued with all sorts of weird, wonderful eccentricities. It’s impossible not to love Alan Arkin’s potty-mouthed, heroin-snorting, porn-loving Grandpa, or Paul Dano’s voluntarily mute Dwayne, who manages to convey way more adolescent disillusionment with a few choice scrawls on his notepad or a shrug of the shoulders than most actors could with a slew of curses and shouts. Then there’s Steve Carrell as Frank, who manages to pull of the perfect balance of woe-is-me melancholy and dry humor. Of course, at the center of all this family wackiness is little Olive herself, and Abigail Breslin makes her wonderfully likeable, without resorting to the usual lispy kid-talk and cutesy-pie hamming that most child actors seem to rely on. Perhaps most impressively, Little Miss Sunshine is one of the few comedies in which the strong initial set-up doesn’t eventually give way to some lame, predictable ending (though unfortunately, there are a few slightly hackneyed plot “twists” that happen along the way – fortunately, the breezy pacing means that the plot rolls forward merrily). From start to fabulous finish, Little Miss Sunshine will leave you smiling big and laughing hard. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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