Little Miss Sunshine
When was the last time you went to a theater and had a genuine community experience?
I'm talking about the sort of gathering in which the entire theater was as one person whose emotions moved in perfect tandem. The sort of gathering in which the film's dialogue was, at times, lost because you couldn't hear over the sound of your own uninhibited laughter. The sort of gathering that rose to their feet at the credits in boisterous, exuberant applause.
If it's been a while, might I suggest Little Miss Sunshine.
This is the little independent film that could, the Sundance darling that is taking America by storm.
Tender and sweet-natured Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin, the darling girl who stole the show in Signs) has always wanted to be a beauty queen. She doesn't see her poochy tummy or big glasses. She just wants to be beautiful. When she asks her grandfather if she is pretty, he responds,
“Olive, you are the most beautiful girl in the whole world.”
“Nah, you're just saying that,” she replies.
“No, I'm not kidding,” he retorts, feigning offense. “I'm madly in love with you, and it's not because of your brains or your personality.”
Alan Arkin is the foul-mouthed patriarch of this wildly entertaining ensemble cast, an oversexed misanthrope who was recently booted from his retirement home for snorting heroin. His son, Richard (Greg Kinnear), is a failing motivational speaker with a maniacal devotion to optimism that borders on emotional abuse when aimed at his family. Richard's wife, Sheryl (Toni Collette) knows her marriage is on the rocks, but doesn't see any way to stear clear of them. Their teenage son, Dwayne (Paul Dano), who's taken a vow of silence, must express himself by scribbling “I Hate Everyone!” on a small note pad. Added into this mix is Sheryl's gay brother, Frank (Steve Carell in a delightfully deadpan, quasi-serious role), the number-one Proust scholar in the world who just tried to kill himself because his grad student boyfriend left him for the number-two Proust scholar in the world.
Unable to afford plane tickets, this kooky, self-destructive, uber-dysfunctional family soon finds themselves piling into a decrepit, bumblebee-yellow VW van for a trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Redondo Beach, California, in order to register Olive in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. (I was reminded of the late JonBenet Ramsey during the pageant scenes. If there is a more disgusting and reprehensible misuse of childhood, I don't know what it is.)
If this set-up sounds like another idiotic, raunchy road trip screw-ball or a sappy, feel-good family flick, think again.
Part black comedy, part National Lampoon farce, Little Miss Sunshine wears its heart on its sleeve, never failing to find the bright spot in the midst of the darkest moments, nor the love and humanity in the most inhospitable situations. Heartache and laughter are handled with equal adeptness and wisdom and dignity are shown to be the by-product not of success, but of failure.
Charming, moving, warm and brilliantly hysterical, Little Miss Sunshine is easily the funniest thing I have seen in a theater in years.
(NOTE: The entire score is a variation on the Denver-based band Devotchka's “How It Ends,” a gorgeous and haunting melody made popular from its use in the trailer for Everything is Illuminated).