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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 21.01%
Average: 16.81%
Pretty Bad: 2.52%
Total Crap: 3.36%

9 reviews, 65 user ratings

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Little Miss Sunshine
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Erik Childress

"Don't Doubt The Commitment To This 'Sparkle Motion'"
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Family comedies and road trip movies have become so ingrained into the regular movie psyche that we may be accustomed to dismiss them as easy fodder for snide remarks against the unoriginality of Hollywood. Whenever people who hate each other are thrown together against their will, it usually takes the ubitquious journey across state lines in a tight environment that will force them to face their issues head on and arrive at a understanding or appreciation when their destination is met. Little Miss Sunshine is such a movie and one which has made headlines as the film which broke the Sundance distributor record for a selling price ($10.5 million to Fox Searchlight). Thankfully this is more than just trite and a film destined to find an audience. It is a beautiful picture punctuated by a top-notch cast and a laugh quotient that exponentially grows right up to its satiric punctuation mark of a climax.

The Hoover family is laid out before our eyes, each with their own introduction in the opening minutes of the film. 7-year old Olive (Abigail Breslin) studies the tapes of beauty pageants in preparation of her dream. Richard (Greg Kinnear) is developing a new 9-step ladder to success which he preaches to the family on every possible occasion. Sheryl (Toni Collette) is a “pro-honesty” mother not afraid of letting little Olive hear the tale of Uncle Frank’s (Steve Carell) suicide attempt over his failure to win the love of one of his male students. Foul-mouthed Grandpa (Alan Arkin) was thrown out of his retirement home for snorting heroin and teenage son, Dwayne (Paul Dano) has taken a vow of silence until he gets into the Air Force Academy, but mostly because he just hates his family.

In the middle of all this comes word that Olive has been chosen to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine competition when a technicality gives her the crown in the previous qualifier. Richard is thrilled to see Olive realize her dream, partly because it fits his mantra of “winners” over “losers”, but financial concerns make a flight from New Mexico to California impossible. With Frank under suicide watch and Grandpa taking duties as pageant trainer, the Hoovers all reluctantly as a family hop into their VW bus for a three-day trip. To say it all goes down smoothly is to say you’ve never seen a story like this before.

But that’s where the real beauty of the film takes shape. Even through the trappings of disagreements and understandings which we’ve seen in countless other films, Michael Arndt’s screenplay involves us into each character’s lives and gives them far greater dimensions than the single lines written about them above. There is real heartbreak just under the surface or just around the corner for all of them and we identify with their fear of failure and the ability to adapt to it. Richard means well when he warns Olive on the effects of ice cream, but also on her disappointment of the potential sacrifice. Grandpa is the irritable curmudgeon looking to live his days out to his tune without having to hear from every disapproving lip, but loves his son and his granddaughter and gives them just the words of wisdom they need when they are at their lowest.

The film establishes itself as a mild comedy of manners from the get-go so its scenes of poignancy may not seem like such a large leap even though they are likely to hit you harder than you can imagine. Abigail Breslin, just perfect as Olive, has a moment of silent understanding and remorse so powerful that it could melt a hundred Grinch hearts and confirms just how big this film’s is – and it’s just getting warmed up. If it’s possible to install some kind of laugh meter within theaters, the charts mapping it would be on a steady incline until its off the page and burying the needle. So many films, whether action, horror or comedy fail on delivering a third act worthy of all its plotlines and character peccadillos. Without spoiling anything (and damn any trailer or any critic who reveals it), directors Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris organize a climax that is, at first, perfectly creepy, brazenly satiric, uncomfortable, applause-worthy with cough-inducing laughter and finally so affecting that you know this family is going to be all right without the benefit of a coda or a return trip telling us with words.

Because Steve Carell is so on fire recently with Anchorman, The 40 Year-Old Virgin and TV’s The Office, I had been guilty describing the film to friends back home as “the Steve Carell movie.” Nothing could be further from the truth as this is a true ensemble of the first order. Kinnear’s tricky transition from overbearing guru to redfining his view of losing, Collette coming to terms with how to protect her daughter from the evils of the world, Dano’s 180 from silent, rebellious teenager to loving, outspoken brother; Carell finding another outlet for the love he has in his heart all match Arkin and the (I’ll say it again) perfect performance from Breslin, who is no longer just another cute child actor but one deserving of actual Oscar consideration for her work here next year. She lives up to the title of Little Miss Sunshine just as the film does to its financial hype at Sundance. Even if the film only matches at the box office what it was bought for (highly unlikely), Little Miss Sunshine is worth every penny of it. (Note: Some special praise must be given to the decision to cast Beth “Sparkle Motion” Grant from Donnie Darko as the pageant organizer.)

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originally posted: 01/28/06 04:10:42
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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
6/03/10 User Name Smart, charming, and origianl; basically, it's all that Hollwood isn't.. 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
7/10/09 the dork knight Why didn't the jurors just shut the music off? 4 stars
5/15/08 matt this movie's the bomb diggety! 5 stars
5/03/08 Pamela White real life can suck your dreams out of you. 5 stars
4/30/08 Mintaka A brilliant satire that lived up to all my high expectations. 5 stars
2/03/08 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
5/30/07 John A perfect blend of comedy with grim reality, hope with failure. 5 stars
5/02/07 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
4/29/07 Geraldine Quirky, dysfunctional, hilarious, heartwarming 5 stars
3/22/07 G so cute-- even the most dysfunctional families CAN come together 4 stars
3/03/07 Ann I LOVED this movie! It really puts family life & sticking together in perspective =] 5 stars
3/01/07 Donny M Worst movie ever. 1 stars
1/28/07 Edith Tide Reasonably entertaining comedy, but Oscar noms. only highlight what a lean year 2006 was. 3 stars
1/24/07 dbx Predictable, contrived, cutesy. Should be called "Not Another Indie Movie" instead. 1 stars
1/23/07 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
11/24/06 Sean Flat out Hilarious 5 stars
11/16/06 KC Absolutely charming, funny and touching film. Highly recommended. 5 stars
11/14/06 Mark Nice. heartfelt. I enjoyed it. 4 stars
10/20/06 Karan Above Perfect 5 stars
10/14/06 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
10/07/06 Laura Thoroughly impressed! Can't wait to watch it again! 5 stars
10/06/06 Kole Brilliant 5 stars
10/04/06 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
9/29/06 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
9/27/06 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
9/21/06 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
9/13/06 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
9/11/06 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
9/05/06 R.W.Welch Deftly done comedy underlayered with some pathos. Quite original. 5 stars
9/04/06 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
8/28/06 Luisa Heart-warming, entertaining, funny flick...great actors! 5 stars
8/25/06 Suzz Very funny, well-acted, well-written film 5 stars
8/20/06 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
8/17/06 nancy n pretty unrealistic, but pretty charming nontheless 4 stars
8/16/06 Josh Jolcover amazing piece of work, funny, yet dramatic, great acting 5 stars
8/14/06 Heather Dry, satirical look at the "American Dream" 5 stars
8/13/06 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
7/20/06 Irma Ecksel A delight, both funny and lots of pathos. 5 stars
5/20/06 JP BEST MOVIE AT SUNDANCE I ONLY SAW 2 thought 5 stars
1/24/06 Ellen James Amazing movie and great cast, it is perfect! Keeps you laughing the whole way through! 5 stars
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  26-Jul-2006 (R)
  DVD: 19-Dec-2006



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