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  Publicity Stills of "Little Miss Sunshine"
(Courtesy from 20th Century Fox)

Genre: Comedy
Director: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Starring: Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano and Greg Kinnear
RunTime: 1 hr 41 mins
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Rating: NC-16 (Sexual Reference)
Opening Day: 28 September 2006

Synopsis :

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE tells the story of the Hoovers, one of the most endearingly fractured families ever seen on motion picture screens. Together, the motley six-member family treks from Albuquerque to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, California, to fulfill the deepest wish of 7-year-old Olive, an ordinary little girl with big dreams. Along the way the family must deal with crushed dreams, heartbreaks, and a broken-down VW bus, leading up to the surreal Little Miss Sunshine competition itself. On their travels through this bizarrely funny landscape, the Hoovers learn to trust and support each other along the path of life, no matter what the challenge.

Movie Review:

In this day of formulaic films, it's nice to see a movie that presents life the way it REALLY is. Just about everyone has some form of a dysfunctional family, and the new film “Little Miss Sunshine” shows us one that we can all relate to. It isn't an exact representation of everyone's life, but there are great characters here, and chances are you'll identify with at least one of them, if not the situations they get into.

The thing that makes “Little Miss Sunshine” so magnificent is its refusal to not pull any punches, a fact we learn right from the very start when the Hoover family sits down to dinner. Father Richard (Greg Kinnear) is having absolutely no success selling his motivational nine-step program for success to anyone. Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) is a suicidal scholar upset that his gay lover has run off with his chief professorial competition, forced to live with his sister (and family matriarch) Sheryl (Toni Collette) because the doctors think he’s still a risk to his own wellbeing. She believes in total honesty, even if said honesty just up and spills all her family’s secrets right out into the open.

That doesn’t sit well with her teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano) whose aspirations of going to the Air Force Academy and flying fighter jets, has take a vow of silence until he gets a letter of acceptance from the prestigious military school. His grandfather (Alan Arkin) thinks the kid is acting insane, realizing himself only late in life that pursuing material gains at the expense of your own happiness is about as wasteful a life as any a human being could possibly ever live. Granted, his pursuits at the moment don’t go too far beyond nasty magazines filled with pornography and a few hits of cocaine, but at his age he figures flirting with death when he’s already so near it probably isn’t that big a deal.

Sitting between them all is seven-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin), a four-eyed would-be beauty queen whose latest good news might just bring the family more closer together than they could have ever imagined. Having been invited to compete in the fiercely competitive Little Miss Sunshine pageant out in California with only a few short days to get there, the Hoovers have to decide if their little girl’s dreams, no matter how impractical, are worth the road trip trying get her there.

Independent films just don't get better than this.

Its easy to see why it was an audience hit at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, "Little Miss Sunshine" was first and foremost a crowd-pleaser. The film is a dark comedy - with such heavy aforementioned subject matter - but underneath the characters' pain and disappointments is a sunny disposition. Life can be rotten on occasion, but it's the only life you've got so you might as well make the most of it. Indeed, the characters in "Little Miss Sunshine" are a flawed bunch with problems galore, but somehow the viewer can tell that they will be all right. As such, the tone remains reasonably light and, if its evoked thematic discomfort doesn't naturally elicit many belly laughs, the picture does produce some big smiles and numerous nods of recognition.
For at least half of its running time, the good intentions of "Little Miss Sunshine" are eclipsed by a propensity of plot contrivances in Michael Arndt's debut screenplay. Arndt and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are obviously reaching for a bit more substance than your typical silly road comedy. Despite some plausibility stretches, the movie eventually shifts into focus and the characters and their naturalistic relationships begin to endear upon the viewer. By the time the climactic beauty pageant rolls around - this bitingly satirical and wickedly hilarious section is by far the high point, casting a merciless light on the hypocrisy of such garish events - it has become an undeniable charmer.

Gone are the feel good moments, and convenient conclusions to dramatic circumstances. This film breaks the norm time and time again, and it works beautifully. The performances are solid. Greg Kinnear shines, whether he's playing the overprotective and sometimes insulting father figure, or dealing with a rather difficult business deal. Toni Collette plays the typical American mom, trying to do the right thing, but often unsure what the answer is. She's terrific here, which isn't a big surprise, as she has proved herself a great actress many times before. Alan Arkin gets some terrific dialogue as the grandfather, often getting the biggest laughs. He's offensive and flawed, but we love him regardless. Steve Carell turns in a fantastic performance as Frank. He's so good playing it serious, I sincerely hope he does more roles like this. Paul Dano also has a challenging part, as he spends much of the film being silent, yet convincingly conveys emotions in every scene he's in. The real gem here is Abigail Breslin, who wins our hearts with every line she delivers. Olive is so cute and so sweet, you can't help but fall in love with her. The film explores interesting emotional scenarios. Subjects like how we deal with death, and the rather controversial young girl beauty pageants, are handled in a very unconventional manner. This is like a film we've seen several times before, but with everything done different. At every corner it breaks tradition, and in the end it all works.

In all fairness, some of it does get a little silly. Otherwise, this really is must-see entertainment that refuses to be forgotten. It’s funny, moving and endearing, weaving into crooks and crannies so complex and uncompromising laughs come with the cries almost in the very same breath. If filmmaking were a beauty pageant and I was a judge, radiant satires like “Little Miss Sunshine” would win my vote, and my tiara, every single time.

Movie Rating:

(An offbeat family road movie that outshines even in the darkest situation. Do yourself a favor and bask in this sunshine when the opportunity comes)

Review by Lokman B S

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