Little Miss Sunshine - Review (Blu-ray)
Review by Jack Foley
THERE’S a very warm glow surrounding everything to do with Little Miss Sunshine, a deliciously quirky, bittersweet tale about a dysfunctional family that’s forced to take a road trip to attend a beauty contest for their seven-year-old daughter.
The film emerged as one of the biggest hits of this year’s Sundance Film Festival and has systematically been winning friends ever since.
It marks the directorial debut of acclaimed music directors (and husband-and-wife team) Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and boasts a terrific ensemble cast including Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell.
What’s more, it mixes humour and tragedy far better than most conventional blockbusters and manages to attract our sympathy and respect for some truly fractured characters.
The family in question are the Hoovers and each member is perilously close to their own personal meltdown.
Father Richard (Kinnear) is an optimistic motivational speaker who’s trying to sell his nine-step programme for success without much of it, while mother Sheryl (Collette) is desperately trying to keep her family’s eccentricities in check by adopting a pro-honesty outlook.
Her brother, Frank (Carell), is a suicidal Proust scholar fresh out of hospital after being jilted by his gay lover, while her son Dwayne (Paul Dano), is an angry Nietzsche-reading teen who has taken a vow of silence until he gets into the Air Force Academy.
Daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin), meanwhile, is refreshingly level-headed but obsessed by beauty competitions despite being slightly plump.
Topping off the family is the foul-mouthed grandfather (Alan Arkin), a pleasure-seeker who was recently kicked out of his retirement home for snorting heroin.
When an unlikely twist of fate enables Olive to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty competition in California, the whole family pile into their rusted VW camper bus and head west on a three-day journey of self-discovery that reveals far more about themselves than they could ever have bargained for.
In spite of its familiar premise, Little Miss Sunshine excels because it is so well-written and so brilliantly performed. Every character is given the chance to shine so that viewers eventually come to care for one and all.
The humour, too, is spot-on, mixing screwball elements with some biting sarcastic asides that sit really well alongside some of the more poignant moments.
Kinnear’s father-figure, for instance, is a hopelessly misguided would-be entrepreneur whose obsesssion with winning is initially difficult to warm to – but his journey is so well-realised that you’ll come to cheer for him to succeed.
While Carell’s suicidal former professor is an absolute delight that shows a completely different side to the comic actor. Though funny in small doses, he is arguably the most sympathetic of all the performers and his low-key approach adds new and hidden depths to this already talented performer.
Collette is her usual magnificent self, Alda is terrific and newcomers Dano and Breslin mix teenage petulence and schmaltz with effortless aplomb.
But the directors’ eye for detail is such that everyone gets the chance to shine, right down to the family’s broken-down camper van which assumes an identity in its own right (you’ll be laughing for some time afterwards at its hilarious misfortune).
By the time the story reaches its surprising and excruciating conclusion, Little Miss Sunshine should have taken its place among your favourite films of the year.
It’s a film that positively radiates quality by turning a tale of losers into one of the year’s biggest winners.
Running time: 101 minutes
UK Blu-ray Release: February 9, 2009