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Saturday, October 28, 2006

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is funny and touching

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine was a film I watched just a few days after The Devil Wears Prada (my Anne Hathaway-centric review here). A charming gem of a film (... charming gem of a film? Man, I sound like those middle-aged critics now!) that was this summer's surprise hit, I was unable to write a review for it because, well, seriously, there's nothing much for me to say. I liked it very much, I enjoyed it greatly, both moving and funny, the film wasn't a life-altering experience, but there's really no flaws I can point out.

What prompted me to write about this film may have to do with Miranda July's Me And You And Everyone We Know that I watched last week, a well-crafted indie film with some truly magical moments AND a killer soundtrack, yet perhaps my cynicism prevented me from enjoying the film fully, the children were too profound, everything they said seemingly wise and important, the main guy's characterization was too inconsistent, Miranda July's character was quirky, but occasionally creepy (she's kinda like Faye Wong's character in Chungking Express, stalking this man she likes, yet somehow Wong Kar Wai managed to make her seem more likeable and normal compared to this character). Despite the (mostly deserved) praises heaped upon this movie, I just couldn't connect with it that well, appreciating it more as a work of art and craftsmanship than really caring about the fates of the characters.

And that was what made Little Miss Sunshine so enjoyable for me. A road movie with a dysfunctional family headed by Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear), who was waiting for his big break as a self-help guru, constantly giving motivational speeches from his unpublished self-help books, his long-suffering wife Sheryl (Toni Collette), the rational one in the family, his stepson Dwayne (Paul Dano), who studied Nietzche deeply and had taken a vow of silence, his cantankerous, foul-mouthed and hedonistic father (Alan Arkin), who got kicked out of nursing home for shooting up, his young daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin), somewhat chubby and bespectacled, yet having a chance to take part in the finals of the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant in Redondo Beach, CA, and there's also Sheryl's brother, Frank (Steve Carell), a suicidal Proust scholar (suicidal because he fell in love with his own student, who rejected him for the number 2 Proust scholar in the nation... Frank was number 1).

The film revolved around the entire family's hilarious trek in a barely operational VW bus from Albequerque, NM to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. Of course, the plot of such a tale is entirely predictable, how a dysfunctional family (whose dysfunctionality were most obvious in an early dinner scene) grew closer and learn more about themselves and one another throughout the journey. But then, this film is pretty much about the journey itself, and not the destination, how the characters, despite their flaws and eccentricities, were genuine enough for me to care about (... and this starts to sound quite a lot like my Saturday book review yesterday, huh?) Heartwarming and optimistic, yet not too quirky to annoy me, nor too sentimental to digust the cynical side of me (the film looks pretty gritty), I absolutely adored the film, enjoyed the great performances from the entire cast, even laughed so hard that tears started rolling down my cheeks towards the ending, not solely because it was funny, the film just made me feel joyous (... and this began to sound like my friend Sebastian's review of The Queen, which I can't link here because he wanted anonymity... for now). This is the debut feature for the directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, a husband-and-wife team, whose previous fares were all music videos, most notably Smashing Pumpkin's great 1979 music video (it's the film where I first noticed the use of Snorricam, before I saw it being used again by Darren Aronofsky as a signature in both his films Pi and Requiem For A Dream, Aronofsky's a major influence of mine, by the way).

My friend Sebastian had once lamented the lack of feel-good family movies in recent years, stating that perhaps everyone had gotten increasingly cynical. Perhaps, but this film will make you love... life*. (after all, it's not illogically optimistic, just that it reminded us that despite its ups and downs, life is still worth living)

Quotes I like (from IMDB):

Olive: Grandpa, am I pretty?
Grandpa: You are the most beautiful girl in the world.
Olive: You're just saying that.
Grandpa: No! I'm madly in love with you and it's not because of your brains or your personality.

Dwayne: You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life is one fucking beauty contest after another. School, then college, then work... Fuck that. And fuck the Air Force Academy. If I want to fly, I'll find a way to fly. You do what you love, and fuck the rest

Grandpa: Losers are people who are so afraid of not winning, they don't even try.

Olive: Why were you unhappy?
Frank: I fell in love with someone...
[interrupted by Grandpa blowing his nose]
Frank: ... who didn't love me back.
Olive: Who?
Frank: One of my grad students. I was very much in love with him.
Olive: *Him*? You fell in love with a boy?
Frank: Very much so.
Olive: That's silly.
Grandpa: [under his breath] That's another word for it...

Other Reviews:

Blogcritics.org: Movie Reviews: Little Miss Sunshine
Tim Taylor likes it.

Blogcritics.org: Movie Reviews: Little Miss Sunshine
Ray Wong likes it too (despite its minor flaws).

Blogcritics.org: Movie Reviews: Little Miss Sunshine
Erin McMaster likes it three. You get the idea. This film is THAT likeably good.

The Great Ganesha: Drugs, Death and Dysfunction: Little Miss Sunshine
Well, besides the fact that his review is pretty damned insightful, I'm linking to The Great Ganesha because people who put 'The Great' before their nicks like The Great Swifty are a rarity.

Related Videos:

Little Miss Sunshine trailer

LucyinLA reviews Little Miss Sunshine, featuring her not because of her brains or personality**

* Of course, you also have to watch something like Drawing Restraint 9 a few hours earlier just so you can look back at films like this with more joy in your heart.

** I'm referencing Grandpa's quote, please don't lynch me.