29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Sunny, funny joy,
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This review is from: Little Miss Sunshine [DVD]  (DVD)
Little Miss Sunshine is an appropriate title for a film which burst onto the independent cinema screens like a surprising, welcome and thoroughly enjoyable slice of art-house comedy. This is a tightly written, well scripted, excellently acted and hilarious film, at turns darkly and self-assuredly black and then riotously slapstick and self deprecating.
The storyline centres around the trans-American adventures of a less than ordinary American family. With Transamerica, the unconventional road trip is obviously the comedy medium of choice in the independent cinema world. The film's very own Little Miss Sunshine is the gloriously unglamorous, vivacious and joyous Olive (Abigail Breslin), the youngest of the family. She wins the opportunity to attend the final of the Little Miss Sunshine pageant after the state winner is disqualified for diet pill abuse.
This should send warning bells for the type of contest she is entering. This is the very dark, very disturbing world of American beauty contest. Eventually the truth is revealed, but first the family have to get there. This involves the suffering rock-like figure of the mom Sheyl (Toni Collette) and the can-do go getting, but ultimately failing author of a self-help book and seminar, the nine steps, dad Richard (Greg Kinnear) eschewing air travel for cost reasons, and loading the family in to a VW camper van.
Along for the ride, and in perfect comedy unison, is the drug snorting, care-home evicted grandfather (whose eventual death provides the central slapstick, and whose last gift is a dance routine for the talent segment of the show that has to be seen to be believed), the mute, difficult teenage brother, who hates the world, his family and loves Nietzsche, and just wants to escape to flying school. Sheryl's brother is also brought, mostly because after a failed suicide attempt he can not be left alone. He provides much of the dry, darker humour that is very reminiscent of the best of the Royal Tennenbaums. He is a homosexual expert on Proust, who grates against the dad but eventually seems to come back around to enjoying life on the trip.
The film is at once a wonderfully life-affirming slice of an atypical American family, and a refreshing change from the dysfunctional middle-class families that have obsessed Hollywood for the past decade. It is also a masterpiece of characterisation and casting. The characters are honed to comic perfection, and the casting of each actor and actress is a masterpiece for the roles. Of especial note and perfection is Breslin as Olive. To find a child actor so able to play this role without self consciousness or precocity makes her extremely endearing and an easy character to root for in the bizarre world of child beauty pageants. But each of the other main characters is also extremely well executed.
The darkest elements of the film come in the portrayal of the pageants. They seem to suggest a sickness at the heart of middle America, where these children, none older than eight, are sprayed, preened, brushed and made up to be like miniature dolls. They wear their sickly smiles, their horribly suggestive outfits and are paraded in a pageant that features the oddly paedophilic compare and the horrendously competitive mothers.
In short this is an extremely enjoyably film, and it would do it a massive disservice to simply label it as `feel good', but it does have this effect. Together with a brilliantly talented cast and a tight, wonderfully executed script this makes the surprise comedy hit of the year.