Film Review - LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE - By Ruth Sharpe.jpg

Film Review – LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE – By Ruth Sharpe

Family values uncovered

DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES have made the film industry a lot of money. Filmgoers love to see how much worse their own family could be and, more importantly, how these dire situations can be resolved. Little Miss Sunshine is another film that tackles this issue, but in a different way, making it one of the most poignant feel-good films of the year.

Essentially, it’s a story about a family who travel from New Mexico to California to enter their daughter in a beauty pageant. Beneath this plot, there is a deeply moving undertone that explores the inner turmoil of each family member and how it affects the overall family relationship.

It’s difficult to know where to start when describing the family. At the head we have Richard Hoover (Kinnear), an overly competitive dad, who is convinced his motivational nine-step technique to becoming a winner will make the family rich, that’s if he ever manages to sell it. His father (Arkin) lives with the family due to his ongoing heroin habit and obsession with porn. His brother-in-law (Carell) has just come to live with them after a failed suicide attempt when his boyfriend left him for one of his work rivals.

His son Dwayne (Dano) is an angst ridden teenager, who reads Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence until he’s old enough to join the air force. His sister Olive (Breslin) has a bizarre obsession with beauty pageants, despite being a plain looking seven-year-old.

Holding all of them together is Sheryl (Collette), the lynchpin of the film, who plays the long suffering, chain-smoking wife and mother.

When Olive finds out she’s got into the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California, the family decide to travel there together in a VW van. Having the family in such an enclosed space inevitably has interesting results and their family relationship is tested to the limit.

The comedy begins early on in the trip. As they set off, the clutch fails. A repairman says that it cannot be fixed straight away, however he explains that they don’t really need a clutch if they park on an incline so the van can get a moving start. During several parts of the story, the family must all get out and push the vehicle then run frantically to get in the side door as the car picks up speed. Thus begins a string of amusing visual gags that intertwine with some terrible misfortune for the family.

It would be unfair to reveal the events of this trip as it would ruin the delight of watching the interaction between the six family members. What can be said, is that all the characters are played fantastically by the distinguished set of actors. The truly magical moments evolve from the entire family’s love for Olive and their desire for her to be happy. It’s the tie that binds them throughout a road trip from hell.

This debut effort by directing team Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Farris is gracefully put together. They manage to find ingenious ways of keeping the action moving without any long-winded explanations of the eccentricities of all the major characters.

The film has had an amazing response in the States and is rumoured to be a surprise Oscar contender. Little Miss Sunshine is a very compelling look into the dark comedy that is the American family.

RATING: * * * *

*   missable

* *   reasonable

* * *   entertaining

* * * *   very good

* * * * * outstanding