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Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine opens with a little girl, Olive, small and pudgy with oversized glasses, watching the Miss America pageant on television. Silently, as Regis Philbin drones on, she mimics the motions of the woman who wins. Olive wants to be a beauty queen.

When Olive gets her chance to enter the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California, the plot becomes something like Vacation. Olive; her father Richard (Greg Kinnear), who anxiously awaits a book deal for his nine step self-help program; brother Dwayne (Paul Dayno), a 15yo Nietzsche-reader who has taken a vow of silence; Grandpa (Alan Arkin), who snorts heroin in the bathroom at night; mother Sheryl (Toni Colette), who has no distinguishing story but who, through anonymity, takes on the role of family-glue; and uncle Frank (Steve Carell), who is living with the family because of a recent suicide attempt, pile into a yellow VW Microbus to take Olive to the pageant. A number of scenes from Vacation are reprised, here, although LMS is more topical, less slapstick than Vacation, and it has no Chevy Chase. Unlike Vacation LMS remembers that laughter and real sadness are emotions not that far apart, and for that reason it’s a fine, funny, poignant movie.

I was surprised at how fine the cast is: Greg Kinnear somehow hits the line where to be positive is to be both annoying and endearing. Toni Colette’s face throughout the film betrays frustration and compassion and anger and surprise and determination. Steve Carell underplays his character mostly, and when he does, Frank is wry and sad at the same time. Alan Arkin and Paul Dayno, too, find keenness in their roles.

Of course, the movie would never work if Abigail Breslin didn’t succeed making Olive the emotional center. Olive, like her family, is out of place but doesn’t quite realize it. The world of the little-girl beauty pageant should never be hers, not because she’s overweight—as her father claims—but because—and again, like her family—she hasn’t the capacity to wear a face that isn’t her own. Breslin plays this exceptionally well, especially as she stands onstage at the pageant, with eight other girls done up with froufrou hair, makeup, and dentured grins. The best smile she can manage is her own, a little bit afraid and a lot genuine. The movie, in the end, cherishes authenticity even as it makes fun of the fact that authenticity is an invented thing.

So, anyway, I liked Little Miss Sunshine, and it I recommend.

 

Comments

I thought I had seen Colette recently! She was a lead in The Night Listener.

Alan Arkin is a great comic actor! but then he can do things like these

He’s always, though, had a heart for the quirky

i loved LMS too, Greg, and i’ve been recommending it to everyone. you’ve given the reasons it’s a good movie much better than i ever could.

Thanks for the kind words, R: you catch a lot of movies, don’t you?

actually…no…not at $10.50 a pop in NYC. one can become VERY selective! it just so happens that you commented on the two feature films that i saw this summer. and i’m impressed with your artful criticism and ability with language (maybe envious is the more honest description). so what should i see next???

$10.50?!? Daaaaammmmmmmnnnn. That’s $4 more than in this neck of the woods plains.

I’d love it if you saw Strangers with Candy and told me about it. We were talking it up for this weekend, but I didn’t realize ‘til just now… I’ve been told Talladega Nights is good for a laugh?

this past saturday we went to the movies… it was odd, it’s been so long, and we’ve been both so busy that we’ve been going to bed routinely around 1 or 2 am. we saw little miss and really, really liked it. it was just what we needed.

we also saw match point (on dvd) thought it totally sucked. couldn’t decide if it was campy or not and finally decided it wasn’t. it was awful.

Anyone who hasn’t seen Little Miss Sunshine yet should definitely go see it while it’s still in the theaters. It’s just so damn good.