movie film review | chris tookey

Little Miss Sunshine

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  Little Miss Sunshine Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
7.15 /10
Greg Kinnear , Toni Collette , Steve Carell
Full Cast >

Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Written by: Michael Arndt

Released: 2006
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 101

Little Miss Sunshine is a dark but defiantly feelgood comedy about that old Hollywood stand-by, a dysfunctional family. It’s the funniest comedy of the year, by many a mile. It’s also the most cleverly written - by unknown New York screenwriter Michael Arndt. Though shot on a low budget, it’s very smartly directed by husband-and-wife first timers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and brilliantly acted by the entire cast, especially Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Kinnear (pictured right) is dad Richard, a peppy and annoyingly optimistic motivational speaker with a 9-step programme that he calls “Refuse to lose”. It’s too bad Richard hasn’t noticed that his programme has only eight steps, and he himself is regarded as a loser by everyone around him, including his patient but stressed-out wife (Toni Collette, pictured left).

Another reason she is under stress is that she has just offered space in her home to her suicidal brother Frank (Steve Carel, pictured second from rightl). He’s in a near-catatonic state, having just lost his gay lover, his academic post and his reputation as America’s number one Proust scholar.

Needless to say, as a self-confessed loser who recently tried to slash his own wrists, Frank is extremely depressed by his brother-in-law’s gung-ho insistence on winning. It may be just as well Frank is being kept away from sharp objects, or he might try to bury one in Richard’s neck.

Frank is forced to share a bedroom with his nephew, 15 year-old Dwayne (Paul Dano, pictured third from right), who may be even more depressed than he is. Dwayne wears black, has kept a vow of silence for nine months, and reads the German philosopher Nietzsche. His way of welcoming Uncle Frank to the house is to scrawl on his notepad “Welcome to Hell”.

The only apparently normal person in the family, seven year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin, pictured second from left) is, despite being a bit podgy, plain and bespectacled, addicted to beauty pageants and inexplicably managed to come second in a local under-10 contest. She is being trained in a new dance routine by her grandpa (Alan Arkin, pictured third from left) who may not be her best choice of choreographer, since his main pastime is ogling women who look like strippers, snorting heroin and being thrown out of old people’s homes.

The disqualification of the local beauty contest-winner after a diet-pill scandal means that little Olive qualifies at the last moment for the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California. So the whole family embarks in a battered old Volkswagen camper van to make the trip.

The journey is very funny in itself, and leads up to a beauty pageant that is like everyone’s worst nightmare of American competitiveness.

The movie covers some remarkably dark subjects with warmth as well as wit, sensitivity as well as satire. And it makes perceptive points about a culture that is abusive not only of young girls who wish to become beauty queens, but of family life in general.

It makes perceptive points about the modern obsession with winning, and asks pertinently who decides whether we win or not? What if these judges’ standards are not our own? And what if, in attempting to win, we lose our sensitivity and respect for ourselves and those around us?

The whole story could be interpreted as an upbeat anthem to loserdom, but the reason I love this movie more than any other I’ve seen this year is that I think it’s more realistic, yet positive, than that. It’s a film that recognises the true glory of humanity as lying in our resilience and good humour in the face of our inevitable failures.

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