Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Indie movie fans will have heard this before - a dysfunctional family go on a chaotic road trip that teaches them something - but don't let that put you off.

Forget the RV and the modcons, this time we're going back to basics with a doddery VW van. And while this movie may, at first, seem to be using a plot as old as their motor, it quickly becomes apparent that the script will offer plenty of mileage.

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But before we hit the gas, some family introductions. This clan is dysfunctional in a way which pushes the envelope while managing to avoid tearing up its credibility completely. There's rude ol' grandpa (played up to the hilt by Alan Arkin) , overachieving Dad Richard (Greg Kinnear) and world-weary mum (Toni Colette, channeling Frances McDormand). Throw in their kids - seven-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) and moochy teenage bro Dwayne (Paul Dano), and there's just room in the back for Uncle Frank (a beautifully understated Steve Carrell).

That would be enough, but in the world of Little Miss S, even their quirkiness has tics. Grandad got kicked out of his retirement home for snorting heroin, Dwayne has taken a vow of silence and communicates only through a notepad and Uncle Frank has just tried to top himself.

"There are only two types of people in the world," says Dad, who is desperately trying to sell a book on the subject, "Winners and losers." It's clear to see this household falls into two distinct camps in his mind. Frank and Grandad are batting for the L-team, while he tries to keep his kids on the W path. Dwayne has a foot in both camps. He is every inch the disaffected youth and yet has taken a vow of silence until he makes it in to flight school. Dad thinks this is a sign he's a winner.

This may sound too much but somehow it isn't. The actors find normality in their roles, which makes the roadtrip to an under-10s beauty contest all the more funny.

The journey is peppered with farcical events and yet the script steers away from the Will Ferrell end of the genre, offering more satirical and adult gags along with the slapstick. Writer Michael Arndt has cleverly captured the bribery and corruption which lie at the heart of most families. More than that, however, he captures their characters, with a show of seven-year-old giddiness by Olive towards the beginning of the film a perfectly pitched example. Although this little van of a film occasionally slows down it keeps on trucking and the destination is well worth the trip.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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A dysfunctional family's road trip to a beauty pageant.
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Read more Little Miss Sunshine reviews:

Stephen Carty ****
Chris ****
Paul Griffiths ****

Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Writer: Michael Arndt

Starring: Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Marc Turtletaub, Beth Grant, Jill Talley, Brenda Canela

Year: 2006

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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