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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Little Miss Sunshine

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Judy Thorburn

Little Miss Sunshine

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"LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE" A RAY OF LIGHT FOR A DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY

Flick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil


What’s the best way for a dysfunctional family to come to terms with their problems? Put them in tight quarters in a VW mini bus for a 700 mile road trip that will change their lives. That’s the foundation of Little Miss Sunshine, which marks the big screen directorial debut of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and was a huge hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Once you share the experiences of the eccentric Hoover family, you can’t help but understand why it had made an impact on audiences and was not just another run of the mill silly road trip comedy.

A terrific ensemble cast make up the Hoovers, a bunch of characters, each with their own neurotic shtick, save for the youngest member, 7 year old, naive Olive (Abigail Breslin). Patriarch Greg Kinnear is Richard, a failure as a motivational speaker but obsessed with his definition of winner. Not exactly a winner himself, he still can’t help spewing out advice at every opportunity to say that there are two types of people in the world, winners and losers, and losers don’t give up. Toni Collette is wife Sheryl, having lost patience with her husband’s pipe dream but trying to hold it all together as finances are dwindling; Paul Dano is angst ridden teenage son Dwayne, a big fan of Nietzshe who communicates with hand written notes since taking a vow of silence, that is until he reaches his goal of becoming a test pilot; Alan Arkin is his foul mouthed, porn reading, grandpa thrown out of his senior retirement home for snorting heroin but useful in supporting and coaching Olive in rehearsal for her pageant talent routine. Add to the mix Sheryl’s depressed gay brother Frank (a bearded Steve Carrell), a brilliant Proust scholar just released from the hospital after attempting suicide and now forced to move in with his sister. The one thing they all share in common is love for Olive, who dreams of winning a beauty title.

Things get going when the slightly pudgy, bespectacled Olive, oblivious to her screwball family, learns that she has made it into the finals of the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. But when her mom, Sheryl realizes they can’t afford plane tickets to get there, she decides they need to pack up their bags and hit the road in their old beat up VW bus with everyone on board to accompany the little miss from Albuquerque to her destination, Redondo Beach, California. To no surprise, it’s all about what happens on the way to the competition. Stuck with each other for the long haul, the clan is forced to overcome their neuroses and deal with one obstacle and crisis after another that comes along. What audiences can relate to is the honest way these folks, by sticking together as a family, handle what is thrown at them. Some situations are downright funny, while others hit a sad chord. Only one episode where they are pulled over by a highway patrolman because the VW’s loud horn won’t stop lacks realism and believability. But, the humor is apparent in other scenes such as when the clutch goes out, the family has to push the van to start, and then jump in as it starts rolling.

Little Miss Sunshine can best be described as a dark comedy, with humor, angst and lots of heart. For example, one heartfelt scene really hits home for anyone who can remember, as a child, trying to live up to his or her parent’s expectations. Olive, afraid of being a loser because her Dad hates losers (he should talk!) asks her Grandpa, with tears in her eyes, if she is pretty, an obvious requirement for beauty contestants. His answer is not only straightforward and amusing, but also very loving, so naturally put forth by the elder, superb Arkin.

That’s what really makes this journey effective; the remarkable, genuine performances of the actors who convey more from their body language, facial expressions and glances than any of the written dialogue. To say one actor stands out from the rest would be erroneous since all are pitch perfect and have marvelous chemistry. However, I was most pleasantly surprised by the wonderful restrained, serious performance by the usually wacky Steve Carrell. Not much is said when Frank is taken aback at bumping into his former lover at a gas station. But, the look in his eyes exudes the pain he feels inside.

As to what’s normal, there’s much to be questioned when checking out Olive’s competition, pint sized beauties, made up to look like grown up sex objects, ala Jon Benet Ramsey, that it’s freaky, let alone frightening. Yet, when push comes to shove, the negative reactions to Olive’s routine gets the family to hit the stage in support. It’s the most hilarious scene in the film. I won’t say why. You have to see it for yourself.

Insightful words come from Frank during a bonding experience with his troubled nephew. He states that through life’s challenges and suffering comes the best times and learning experiences. It takes just that for the Hoover’s to come to grips with the importance of family ties and to let go of unrealistic goals. Like a vacuum this Hoover family is a winning bunch, far from losers, who draw you into their journey, emotional baggage and all