I went to a PGA screening of Little Miss Sunshine this afternoon. The film is about a dysfunctional Arizonian family on the verge of a nuclear meltdown. After a failed suicide attempt, Frank (Steve Carell) goes to stay with his sister Sheryl (Toni Collette). Sheryl’s husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) is an aspiring self-help guru, but he can’t get his business deals in order. His dad (Alan Arkin) is a drug-using ex-hippie, who has been training his granddaughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) a dance routine for her beauty pageant competitions. Sheryl’s son Dwayne (Paul Dano) has taken a vow of silence until he gets into the Air Force Academy, and he hates everybody.
So one day, Olive gets the call that due to a disqualification, she’s now going to be in the Little Miss Sunshine finals, held in Redondo Beach. Unfortunately they don’t have enough money to fly – and Richard is trying to find out about a make-it-or-break-it deal… so they decide to take the old Vanagon on a road trip – with hilarious consequences.
I certainly laughed a lot during the film. The story is well played, and everything about it was very “indie”, but very well done. The pacing was good, and the acting was definitely top notch. The beauty pageant sequence was one of the more disturbing things I’ve seen, but I haven’t laughed that hard in a while either. Now all that being said, the family – for all their quirks, etc. – feels very one-dimensional, and trapped within their characters. That is to say, beyond the traits they display during the course of the film, there isn’t much there.
But don’t let that dissuade you from seeing the film. It’s not a great film, but it’s very well done, and easily one of the better comedies of the year.