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Friday, September 01, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine Movie Review

Little Miss Sunshine Movie Review

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Toni Collette. Steve Carell, and Alan Arkin

Directed by: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Rated: R for language, some sex and drug content.

101 min

If you’re me, and you see a trailer that has Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell ( incidentally made BEFORE he made 40 year Old Virgin and became some kind of gigantic comedic genius) and odd assorted people, including an old Alan Arkin and the mom from The Sixth Sense, driving in a VW bus across America, well… you know you’re going to see this movie. This is before you realize what the plot of Little Miss Sunshine is about, that the plain, chubby, little girl in big glasses is going to be a contestant in one of those godawful beauty pageants that so many insane people put their daughters in, as if they are little living dolls, with glazed smiles, glazed hair, glazed eyes… and the family that is accompanying her on her strange journey is weird in the way that only real people are.

Despite the fact that sometimes “Sundance films”, or “indie amazements” are starting to not always be what they’re cracked up to be, in your honest opinion. But. If you like movies such as Napoleon Dynamite and the aforementioned 40 Yr. Old V., if you would have liked those movies even if NO one else would have, had they not become Indie Success Stories overnight, if you’d liked them just because they have the quirky, desperate kind of humor that tickles your odd funny bone, and you are a tickle junkie, constantly searching for the right funny-bone-tweaker… you just know you are going to see this movie. That is not in question. The questions are….are you gonna laugh? Are you gonna cry? Are you gonna get up and demand your money back, like when you were a brave young teen and Ernest Goes To Camp didn’t strike the right tone with you?

I’ll tell you, two out of three is not bad at all.

This is a rare movie. There’s nothing common about it. There’s nothing common about the storyline, except for the possibility that a lot of indie films seem to have storylines where shit just keeps getting worse, and worse. Check for this film. And indie films seem to cast people who are, well, not exactly Hollywood handsome. Check. But that’s because they are INDIE films, their very name implying that as independent films, they are nothing like the usual films that come to your friendly neighborhood theater. Check, check, check.

Olive, our small heroine, has somehow, almost miraculously, ended up being the state of New Mexico’s contestant for the Little Miss Sunshine, a national contest being held in California. Her family, who are all very strange ducks indeed, have one thing in common throughout this movie. That is, they love Olive. So there is never a doubt that the child is going to get to go to the LMS contest. The question is, how? And who has to go with? And oh my gawd, what else is going to happen on the way?

The family includes her father, played by Kinnear, who is attempting (very hard) to become a self-success guru along the lines of that really tall Robbins guy, who spouts off frequently about his motivational mantra “ The Nine Steps”, often making poor Olive his target, including when they stop for food and she wants ice cream. Do winners eat ice cream? Well, do they? The guy is so predictable you want to slap his smirky jerky face, but hang in there, you’ll like him by the end.

Her mom, Collette, now she’s the one I could relate to, the harassed, tired woman who just wants everyone to get along, please…. Trying to ignore the fact that she recently picked up her brother from the hospital after a suicide attempt (Carrel, who plays a depressed gay man suffering from unrequited love just about as well as anyone ever could, I declare.) Then there is her son, Dano, the silent (and I mean that literally) teenager who reads Nietzsche and has made a vow not to speak a word until he gets into flight school, thereby fulfilling the first step of his dream to become a jet pilot. He hates everyone, he lets his uncle know, via notebook, in the beginning of the show. Surprisingly, or maybe not, although filled to the brim with the angst people of his age are typically filled with, he doesn’t hate very much, after all. Nor is he stupid, predictable, or typical. This movie isn’t, either.

The grandfather, who is Olive’s coach, who has taught her “every move she knows” for the talent show, is a heroin-sniffing, foul-mouthed old lech, played spectacularly by Arkin, who redeems every other rude and nasty thing he says by his shiny love for his granddaughter. In one laugh/cry scene, she asks him if she is pretty. The old man does not hesitate when he tells her, “Olive, you are the most beautiful girl in the world. I’m completely in love with you. And it’s not ‘cause of your brains or your personality, it’s because you’re beautiful…” a perfect example of the kind of writing in this movie that makes it so scrumptious.

Yes, the goofy-family-dramady has been done before, many times. Not with this panache, though, I have to say, not with this kind of sweet craziness. There is a plaintive quality to LMS, something that plucks at the heartstrings even as you’re wiping tears of laughter off your cheeks. This film makes something as lame as a broken horn RFF*. It makes you change your mind about the characters, rethink them as people. It makes you hurt, and hope, at the same time.

As this family of misfits makes their way across the country, on a deadline, if you decide to go on the ride, you will go from laughing to crying, back to laughing again. I know some people are furious when their emotions are “manipulated” in this way by the filmmakers, but not this kaat, nuh-uh. I go to movies to have my emotions manipulated, jerked around, switched up, moved, in short, and LMS did all that and more. It pushed all the buttons, not only the “laugh” and “cry” ones. I believe there was also a few “cringe” and “gulp” ones in there, too. If a movie is a ride, then this was my very favorite kind. I positively loved LMS, to the point that I sat watching the credits for at least three seconds, and usually, I am that first person out the swinging door, as the credits barely begin their descent, thrusting my popcorn ahead of me like a shield, smackng my way past the usher, just trying to get out. I don’t sit there to watch the funny “goof” reels. I get out, because I’m thinking, now was this, or was this not, a waste of my life? Usually, sadly, the answer ends up being Uh, yeah.

In the case of LMS, it most emphatically was not. It’s rare that I’m sitting there, wishing it wasn’t over. I was, so much, in this case.

I give it five &’s.

& it was unique

& it was hilarious

& it was sad (but in the very best way)

& the characters were wonderful

& the ending didn’t suck

*Really Frickin Funny


Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Great review ... I made the mistake of choosing Idlewild over this when it finally made it to my little corner of the world last weekend and was just rewarded with a cinematic mess .. I won't be making that mistake again!

3:38 PM  
Blogger alethegoodsoul said...

*gasps* I'm back!!!

Ah, school took over my life but I'm finally back and with a three-day weekend to boot!


Dude! I am so watching that movie this weekend. I'm in love with Greg Kinnear. I love him! I love him! I love him!

And I also love Indie films.

Yay! I'm back and you had an awesome post to read! Yay!

3:54 PM  
Blogger Meowkaat said...

Yes, do go see it- both of is so good. Now I have to make the grim I see "Beerfest" or "Crank" today? no danger of being subjected to a great storyline in either case... one has beer, hence drunkenness, one has adrenaline, hence... you'd think, action... I hate choices like these....

8:22 AM  
Blogger sock puppet said...

You've convinced me!

Hey, any chance there will ever be a PostSecret exhibit in your neck of the woods? If so, I hope you'll attend and review.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Meowkaat said...

....SOB SOB SOB....
There was an exhibit, but I didn't find out about it until after the fact. I could have kicked my own ass, I was so mad at not paying attention.
Maybe they'll come back...this is a mecca of culture and beauty,and...secrets. LOTS of secrets and secret-lovers here, so maybe they'll come back.

8:59 PM  

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