the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

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).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so thrilled you liked this movie! I've been waiting for it for what feels like forever and if you'd hated it... I might have cried.

I'll let you know when I see it :)


8:40 PM  
Anonymous nate said...

I've wondered what that song was since I first heard it.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

It's a wonderful song. One I can listen to over and over and over again.

You can download or listen to the MP3 here:

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Rhonda said...

Hi Brandon -
I couldn't agree more with your critique.
You've said everything (almost) that I've been thinking about the movie since I saw it last weekend at a packed Kimball's.
Here's the bottom line for me: I love movies that mix humor, sadness, scary moments and triumphant moments - because that's what life is. And this delivers all that beautifully.
I emerged with a new philosophy of life (along the lines of "you're only a loser if you don't try") and a great fondness for every one of those brilliant actors.
It was great to see Alan Arkin again (who else could play that role?) and it'll be interesting to follow Abigail Breslin's career.
I predict some Oscar nominations.

9:35 AM  

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