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Overall Rating
4.24

Awesome56.3%
Worth A Look: 21.01%
Just Average: 16.81%
Pretty Crappy: 2.52%
Sucks: 3.36%

9 reviews, 65 user ratings



Little Miss Sunshine
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by David Cornelius

"Great cast saves the day."
3 stars

Watching “Little Miss Sunshine”, I found myself swept up in its parade of big, naughty laughs, twisted characters, and oddball situations. But as time passed, I’ve cooled quite a bit on the film - I still admire the comic potential, and it’s hard to find a tighter cast featured on the indie circuit at the moment, but there’s this sense of trying-way-too-hard that’s since soured me on the whole thing. Here’s a film constructed with all energy spent entirely on its being as quirky as possible, a film desperate to tell you how good it is. Which gets fairly annoying after a while.

The film is written by Michael Arndt, a newcomer, and directed by the team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, veterans of music videos and commercials making their feature debut. Which feels just about right - “Sunshine” is both overly written and overly directed. There’s nothing here that feels natural, be it the dialogue or the delicate precision of camera placement, and it’s more like a student’s idea of what a smart movie must be instead of a genuine article. The lack of authenticity crushes the film, as it all keeps forcing the eccentricities upon the story, instead of merely letting the story play out in its own affectionately idiosyncratic way.

But in another way, it helps the film. “Sunshine” is a gorgeously crafted effort, every shot being a nice treat for the eyes. It may lack any natural core, but it still sucks you in with the directors’ elegant knowledge of screen composition.

Of course, you can argue that it’s all window dressing framing nothing. And you’d just about be right. The story here is familiar, overblown, and strangely shallow: a family of misfits, each at a stage of personal crisis, finds themselves crammed in the family VW minibus (VW minibus = kooky, apparently), making their way cross-country, when the young daughter gets accepted into a beauty pageant, her six-year-old lifelong goal.

The family consists of:

- Father Richard (Greg Kinnear), a self-help guru who’s constantly injecting his own useless catchphrases into conversation. He preaches about how winning is everything. The journey will teach him otherwise.

- Young Olive (Abigail Breslin), who worships beauty queens and longs to be one herself. The journey will teach her otherwise.

- Big brother Dwayne (Paul Dano), who has taken a vow of silence (yet continues to communicate via scribbles on a notepad) until he gets into the Air Force. He hates his family. The journey will teach him otherwise.

- Mom Sheryl (Toni Collette), who’s had it with this ridiculous family. The journey will teach her otherwise.

- Sheryl’s brother Frank (Steve Carell), a gay Proust scholar recovering from a suicide attempt when failures both professional and romantic left him certain that life is worth losing. The journey will etc., etc.

- Richard’s grumpy father, known only as Grandpa (Alan Arkin), who cusses like a sailor and makes no effort to hide his love for pornography. Refreshingly, the journey teaches him nothing. Not so refreshingly, it’s his job to help teach everyone else.

It’s a jumble of coming of age, dysfunctional family, and road trip dramedy, and the only thing separating it from all the other stories just like it is the quirk angle. Yet the whole thing is too staged to truly click. Consider Dwayne’s vow of silence. It’s supposed to be connected to his habit of reading heavy philosophy, yet the constant note-writing (doesn’t even secondary communication like that violate the oath anyway?) is too contrived, as if the filmmakers were all keen on the idea of how cool it would be to have one character just write stuff down. (Indeed, it’s become the big hip thing of the film, as Dwayne’s notepad writings have been turned into advertising in the sense of the movie’s poster campaign.) Rather than come up with anything that might help form the characters as people, we get stuff like this, which forms them as types.

And when the movie switches into full-on satire mode, it lacks enough real bite. It aims at easy targets - self-help twits, beauty pageant freaks - and only uses them to bolster the movie’s “it’s OK to be different as long as you’re happy” message (which gets driven home in all the wrong ways in a finale that, while pretty funny, is also pretty lame, story-wise). True study of family interaction is replaced by broad, rough yuks.

And yet “Sunshine” ultimately works; after all, as already mentioned, it’s very easy to get swept up in the whole mess, as it’s very, very funny. I’ll credit Arndt for whipping up some deft one-liners and zany situations, but I’ll credit the cast more for pulling the whole thing together. This is one gifted line-up, all of them experts in balancing comedy and drama (even Carell, previously known only for comedy, and even the kids, who hold their own and then some against such heavyweight grown-ups), and their knack for timing and interplay gets the most laughs out of every gag. They also believe deeply in their characters, breathing them to life and managing the almost impossible task of giving all of this silliness some serious weight. By diving headfirst into their roles, this ensemble ignores the intentional askew feel to the picture and plays everything honestly.

The result is a mess of a movie that’s full of itself and too eager to show off, yet winds up endearing and enjoyable anyway thanks to the efforts of a powerful cast. It’s not the delight it could have been had the filmmakers toned down the indie vibe a few notches, but it’s still a nice treat. If you want to see how an exceptional group of actors manages to save a movie from itself, this is the one.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13577&reviewer=392
originally posted: 08/18/06 01:48:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/14/15 ER Great script, greater acting without a false note. 5 stars
6/02/10 User Name Smart, charming, and origianl; basically, it's all that Hollwood isn't.. 4 stars
5/02/10 PAUL SHORTT WINNING COMEDY-DRAMA WITH A GOOD CAST 4 stars
8/06/09 Simon Funny, sincere, inspiring, well-acted... A rare complete dramedy 5 stars
8/01/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess for a truly great blend of black comedy and harsh reality see, something by Todd Solondz. 2 stars
7/09/09 the dork knight Why didn't the jurors just shut the music off? 4 stars
5/14/08 matt this movie's the bomb diggety! 5 stars
5/02/08 Pamela White real life can suck your dreams out of you. 5 stars
4/29/08 Mintaka A brilliant satire that lived up to all my high expectations. 5 stars
2/02/08 Anne I don't see many films more than once, but this one, I did 5 stars
12/06/07 Adrian A chick movie I liked! 4 stars
7/27/07 Alisa Ann I saw it last night, and it was a very good movie 5 stars
7/11/07 Hello Stranger abigail is awesome in this. so heartwarming this movie 5 stars
6/09/07 MP Bartley Just lovely. Superb ensemble acting. 4 stars
5/29/07 John A perfect blend of comedy with grim reality, hope with failure. 5 stars
5/01/07 Anthony One of the best films of 2006. An absolute gem of a movie. 5 stars
4/29/07 Tim thought is was bad smut, the worst, had to have no brain to write such junk. 1 stars
4/28/07 Geraldine Quirky, dysfunctional, hilarious, heartwarming 5 stars
3/21/07 G so cute-- even the most dysfunctional families CAN come together 4 stars
3/02/07 Ann I LOVED this movie! It really puts family life & sticking together in perspective =] 5 stars
2/28/07 Donny M Worst movie ever. 1 stars
1/27/07 Edith Tide Reasonably entertaining comedy, but Oscar noms. only highlight what a lean year 2006 was. 3 stars
1/23/07 dbx Predictable, contrived, cutesy. Should be called "Not Another Indie Movie" instead. 1 stars
1/22/07 bullit16 Very cute movie. Abigail Breslin is a star in the making. 4 stars
12/28/06 Phil M. Aficionado Liked it in spots, but clumsy overall and a bit offputtiing and hokey 3 stars
12/14/06 The Deadly Assassin The best comedy of 2006 !!! 5 stars
11/23/06 Sean Flat out Hilarious 5 stars
11/15/06 KC Absolutely charming, funny and touching film. Highly recommended. 5 stars
11/13/06 Mark Nice. heartfelt. I enjoyed it. 4 stars
10/20/06 Karan Above Perfect 5 stars
10/13/06 Eric Beautiful comedy. Only movie to ever make me cry from laughter and sadness. Perfect. 5 stars
10/12/06 John One for my All time fav. films - 5 stars
10/06/06 Laura Thoroughly impressed! Can't wait to watch it again! 5 stars
10/05/06 Kole Brilliant 5 stars
10/03/06 Monday Morning Wonderful ensemble and writing -- final product is a top-notch comedy. 5 stars
9/29/06 Hart Its heart-warming to know that Hollywood still comes out with such rare gems. A must watch. 5 stars
9/28/06 Bob Cather Sure to be on the top 10 movies of the year list. It is my # 1 pick 5 stars
9/27/06 Raj 5/5 - A rare film - Oscar material 5 stars
9/26/06 Dan Spent a perfect day wasting my time at this movie. 2 stars
9/26/06 Kristina Krumpfelhagen Better than most "disfunctional family on road trip" phliks. 4 stars
9/24/06 Clare M It has a bit of all of us in it...laughed 'till I cried 5 stars
9/20/06 Jesus Loved it, perfect. Great acting and I love Paul Dano. 5 stars
9/19/06 PD Excellent cast + performances; endearing and comedic, if a little over the top at times 4 stars
9/18/06 JAyb123 Fantastic, Best movie of the year thus far 5 stars
9/12/06 Bitchflaps Frovolous, mawkish schmaltz dressed up as a kind of Happy Shopper Royal Tenenbaums. 2 stars
9/11/06 pppppppp one of the worst movies I have ever seen. 1 stars
9/10/06 jcjs Alan Arkin, Greg Kinnear and all perfect fun, great show on many levels 5 stars
9/07/06 tony lacombe finally,a funny comedy!!!!! 5 stars
9/04/06 R.W.Welch Deftly done comedy underlayered with some pathos. Quite original. 5 stars
9/03/06 Yolanda Funny, kooky movie. Look for love in the craziness of your own family. It's there-hopefully 5 stars
8/31/06 Pn. Stop me before I laugh again! 5 stars
8/30/06 Killjoy How come Toni always does amazing films? She is a lucky mascot! 5 stars
8/27/06 Luisa Heart-warming, entertaining, funny flick...great actors! 5 stars
8/24/06 Suzz Very funny, well-acted, well-written film 5 stars
8/19/06 Bill Outstanding movie!! Can't wait to see it again. 5 stars
8/18/06 Ekkostar Worth it if Bryan Cranston is somewhere in it. 4 stars
8/16/06 nancy n pretty unrealistic, but pretty charming nontheless 4 stars
8/15/06 Josh Jolcover amazing piece of work, funny, yet dramatic, great acting 5 stars
8/13/06 Heather Dry, satirical look at the "American Dream" 5 stars
8/12/06 Mase Nice refreshing summer flick!! Toni Collette is surely one of the best actressess out there 5 stars
8/06/06 Mark A screwball comedy with a heart 4 stars
7/26/06 Andrea Bloom Best comedy I've seen in a long, long time. 5 stars
7/19/06 Irma Ecksel A delight, both funny and lots of pathos. 5 stars
5/19/06 JP BEST MOVIE AT SUNDANCE I ONLY SAW 2 thought 5 stars
1/23/06 Ellen James Amazing movie and great cast, it is perfect! Keeps you laughing the whole way through! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  26-Jul-2006 (R)
  DVD: 19-Dec-2006

UK
  08-Sep-2006

Australia
  12-Oct-2006




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