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Little Miss Sunshine
The little movie that could
Little Miss Sunshine
Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell in "Little Miss Sunshine".
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $41,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

April 3rd, 2006: The Hoovers are a model portrait of a dysfunctional family. Sheryl (Toni Collette), who may be the only sane one in the whole bunch, has just brought home her depressed brother Frank (Steve Carell) after a failed suicide attempt. For the duration of his stay, he will have to share a room with his nephew, Dwayne (Paul Dano), a Friedrich Nietzsche admirer who has decided to take up a vow of silence until he becomes an Air Force pilot. Grandpa (Alan Arkin), Sheryl’s father-in-law, has already been staying with the family for some time after he was thrown out from his retirement home for snorting heroin and advocating irresponsible 1960s behavior. Her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear), a desperately positive thinking man, bent on getting rich from a self-improvement scheme, constantly pushes on all of them. When Richard and Sheryl’s 7-year old daughter, Olive (Abigail Breslin), miraculously becomes a finalist in the Little Miss Sunshine Contest, the entire family decides to take a trip. Packed tightly in a Volkswagen Bus that needs a solid push before it can even start, the group travels from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, California. Along the way and eventually at their final destination, all members will undergo personal transformations.

What to Expect: Husband and wife co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have been working together as far back as I can remember (since the early 1980s, in fact), but Little Miss Sunshine will be their first feature film. Up until now, they have belonged to that familiar breed of talented and inventive music video and commercial directors. In fact, they have collaborated with several famous artists, including Macy Gray, Jane's Addiction, Janet Jackson, Oasis, The Ramones, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Weezer. You might remember the delightfully imaginative video they did approximately ten years ago for The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight.” Hopefully, their transition will yield quality films, comparable to those made by other, respected, music video and commercial directors like David Fincher, Mark Romanek, Spike Jonze, and Michel Gondry. Judging by the content of their past work, it’s doubtful that they could produce a disaster as awful as Hype William’s atrociously incomprehensible Belly.

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The phenomenal cast is an ideal match for the unpredictable characters in the film. Steve Carell and Greg Kinnear stand out in particular since their experience in comedy will allow them to deliver the film’s funnier moments with natural ease. I was really impressed with Carell’s humorous, but more importantly, insightful performance in The 40 Year Old Virgin. He was able to remain subtle and real throughout a film that could have easily become an outrageous exercise in crude sexual exploits. Underneath the calm façade, there was a man distraught by the fact that his safely packaged world had been shattered after the truth about his virginity was revealed. Carell’s performance was an honest depiction of human behavior. I expect more of the same from him in Little Miss Sunshine, as the role will probably require him to delve even deeper into the drama of the situation. Kinnear has also been quite successful in the past at playing both comical, as well as, somber notes. The former “Talk Soup” host even has an Academy Award nomination to show for it. However, he’s been able to back up his breakthrough role in As Good as It Gets with remarkably consistent and diverse performances in terrific films like Sabrina, What Planet Are You From?, The Gift, We Were Soldiers, Auto Focus, Stuck on You, Bad News Bears, and The Matador. One forgets the quality of his resume and the ease with which he shifts from comedy to drama or vice versa.

So far, the buzz couldn’t be any better for this movie. Little Miss Sunshine premiered at Sundance to cheers and applause during the screening and a standing ovation at the end, which is almost unheard of. The film was not entered in the main competition, as the filmmakers were concerned primarily with finding a distribution deal. The plan worked perfectly. Within a day, Fox Searchlight bought the rights to the picture for $10.5 million, in one of the biggest deals ever made at the festival. Everyone, myself included, is convinced that this will become an endearing crowd pleaser.

This is going to be a dark comedy, but with a heartwarming core. As the family sets out on a journey from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, their life will take on new meaning as they grow to trust and encourage one another. I sense one of those uniquely bittersweet pictures that has me laughing with the characters, engrossed in their troubles, rewarded by the poignancy of the story, but a bit saddened by the inevitable conclusion. Recent films like Me and You and Everyone We Know or Broken Flowers immediately come to mind as a good comparison. Little Miss Sunshine will undoubtedly feature a lot of subtle comedy; so subtle that if you blink, you may just miss it. However, the compelling story should keep everyone glued to the screen, with hanging moments of silence serving as ideal set-ups for the comedy.

In Conclusion: The American dramedy is a beautiful art form. Bursts of laughter blended with genuinely tender moments of humanity, really tend to satiate the soul. Of course, if done poorly, it can come off looking as a wretched exercise in manipulation. I doubt this will be the case with Little Miss Sunshine, since it appears to have a lot to look forward to. Reportedly, the project has taken about five years to finish, which in this case suggests a real labor of love. Audiences should appreciate the terrific writing and respond to the fairly accessible and bittersweet story. With time, and some help from word-of-mouth buzz, the film should grow to have a respectable showing in the theaters.

Similar Titles: Broken Flowers, The Royal Tenenbaums, Me and You and Everyone We Know
July 28th, 2006 (limited)
December 19th, 2006 (DVD)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin, Paul Dano

Total: 83 vote(s).

Comedy, Drama

Click here to view site

Rated R for language, some sex and drug content.

101 min






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