There’s SO much to love about Little Miss Sunshine that I don’t even know where to begin. It is simply one of the best movies I’ve seen in years.
Part goofy sitcom and part painful irony, the film explores a family teetering on the brink, a barely middle-class group of six whose characters are played so brilliantly that you can’t help but root for each and every one of them, despite their individual idiosyncrasies, which, in real life, would border on the annoying and/or officially disturbing.
I can’t really point to one particular actor who shines here, because all six do it so convincingly – Greg Kinnear’s portrayal as the self-appointed patriarch makes you want to kick him hard in the shins, yet I couldn’t help but feel just a little sparkle of sympathy for his character. Steve Carell’s turn as a suicidal, gay academic is not what you’d expect – nearly every word that comes out of his mouth is dull and almost pathetic, yet he actually appears to be the most stable, until you really meet Paul Dano’s “Dwayne” about halfway through the film. Dwayne, at 15 years old, is on a self-imposed vow of silence until he gets to fighter pilot training in three years. Enough said, right? No pun intended.
I found myself begging for way more of Alan Arkin, who plays the hilarious Grandpa, the potty-mouthed, drug abusing, been-there-done-that cantankerous fool – he’s really a bit player here, but all of the greatest moments in this film center around his influence or his presence, whether he’s physically there or not. There’s one moment in this movie between he and Greg Kinnear that almost makes you cry, because it’s so heartfelt – and so unexpected – and there’s two other moments in the film that involve him when he’s NOT there that are the two funniest lines in the whole movie.
Although there is no one central character here, the title of the film is actually the name of a 10-and-under beauty contest in California held for little girls. The gang of six are on their way to the pageant in their Volkswagen van because Olive, the forever optimistic, slightly rotund and hugely spectacled 7-year old girl of the family, has won the chance to compete for the national crown.
Often times she steals the show just with her oft-bewildered facial expressions, but the envrionment surrounding her, particularly at the pageant itself, is where the movie turns to pure comedy. Underlying those guffaws, though, is a serious and biting cannon shot to the gut of a particular arm of our society today. I’m not going to go into detail there as you simply must see the movie. Suffice it to say that Olive wins the regional pageant because the real winner was disqualified due to her taking diet pills and during one scene, an eight year old is being sprayed with bronzer by her preppy mother in preperation for the pageant.
It’s not just a shot at the bombastic and ridiculous pageant life, though, it’s just a microcosm of how America is starting to feel to me. That’s just my perception, by the way, but I do believe the filmmakers aren’t just taking shots at pageantry – that would be way too easy.
I’ve said enough – you really should see this movie. Trust me.