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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
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Quitters never win — but is it always worth winning?"
4 stars

Waiting to pay for some items at the local pharmacy on my way home from "Little Miss Sunshine," I spotted the "People" cover featuring JonBenet Ramsey -- that poor, sad icon of everything that's wrong and right with America. The photos of JonBenet all gussied up seem scarcely less unnatural than her violent fate.

There's something creepy and pedophilic about the whole enterprise (often fuelled by frustrated beauty-pageant one-timers like JonBenet's mother). I flashed back on the scenes in Little Miss Sunshine showcasing little girls tarted up enough to make JonBenet look plain. The sight is both ghastly and saddening, and it brings everything in this undercooked but successful film into sharp focus. Is this sort of contest worth winning? Is it so bad to lose at being a mini-whore?

In ways big and small, the whole movie asks those questions. We're introduced to a New Mexico family of desperate strivers -- the Hoover family (the name being a not-so-subtle pun about how much they suck; apologies to readers who share the name). Richard (Greg Kinnear) has a nine-step program promising to train "losers" to become "winners," but he hasn't realized that nobody's going to take how-to-win advice from someone who hasn't won anything yet. While Richard waits for his ship to come in, in the form of a possible book deal, his frazzled wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) keeps food on the table (Sprite and take-out chicken). Her brother Frank (Steve Carell) is despondent after having been dumped by one of his (male) grad students. Richard's dad (Alan Arkin) is an irascible old goat. Finally, the family's two kids have their own goals: Dwayne (Paul Dano) has taken a vow of silence until he gets to go off to the Air Force Academy, and Olive (Abigail Breslin) dreams of being a beauty queen, under the tutelage of Grandpa, who seems to have a kind word only for her.

Little Miss Sunshine follows this dysfunctional clan as they travel by dysfunctional minibus from Alberquerque to Redondo Beach to enter Olive in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. Along the way, most of what can go wrong does, and for a while the movie flirts uncomfortably with Weekend at Bernie's territory. For the first half hour or so, the film got my back up; I assumed this indie darling (a Sundance winner picked up by Fox Searchlight for $10 million, and posting decent box-office returns in its slow rollout) would be yet another smug comedy building up middle-class straw men only to incinerate them. What we didn't need, I thought, was a farcical variation on American Beauty, or a road trip in which everyone Hugs and Learns Something.

But as it goes along, Little Miss Sunshine accumulates depth and fleshes out its characters. Greg Kinnear's Richard, for instance, shows us the abject terror inside the winner's pose. Steve Carell moves away from his cartoonish specialty and makes Frank a saturnine, darkly sarcastic man, a Proust scholar in a world of people who've never heard of Proust. The movie stays within its realistic, lower-middle-class framework. The American Dream isn't working for these people, because it isn't their own dream. The ethos of winning, surface success, beauty -- it deforms the best and destroys the rest. Billed as a comedy, the movie spends a surprising amount of screen time wallowing.

And then it comes -- the climax at the pageant, with its too-mature little girls looking like amped-up, horribly sexualized versions of the girls in Sparkle Motion in Donnie Darko. (For good measure, Beth Grant -- who played Darko's obscenely driven Sparkle Motion stage mom -- shows up here as a pageant official who almost doesn't let Olive in because the family is five minutes late. I half expected her to question Richard's commitment to Little Miss Sunshine.) Charismatic but a bit chunky and plain, Olive can't compete with the shining corruptions of girlhood on the stage, and the family realizes that with horror and then relief. What follows happily defiles the fake dignity of the pageant -- of all pageants. Grandpa, the horny old coot who picked the inappropriate song Olive dances to, may have understood better than anyone the nature of the miniature meat market. The scene rises from embarrassment to triumph, and we're left with a rejection of false values that feels honest and earned.

And then, at the pharmacy, I looked at JonBenet and remembered that one of the pageants she won was Little Miss Sunburst. Under Colorado state law she would've been old enough this month to get her driver's license.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 08/28/06 07:35:16
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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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