Revisiting Little Miss Sunshine (2006) I was struck by how much, just like Juno (2007), the reception of the film has cooled in light of the pale imitations that studios started pumping out to cash in on its success. This is a shame, because as a crowd-pleaser of a film, with something for pretty much everyone, it is bloody hard to beat.
The film is a simple, but not sentimental, long distance journey taken so that the youngest member of a family can compete in a beauty pageant. The family is a bunch of misfits, from a foul mouthed grandad, a prick of a father through to a teenager who has taken a vow of silence. The car is a bright yellow, mechanically questionable kombi van which adds to the misfit feel of it all. The results of the film, like any great team, are far superior to the constituent parts that it is made up of. Along the way, there are little moments that give the film such charm – a homophobic old dude spotting a suicidal gay Proust scholar for a porno, and a note advising ‘go hug mum’. It’s a comedy that does credit to its road film roots, having the characters overcome a range of barriers, from the comical to the heartfelt. It also does not shy away from the fact, actually it totally embraces it, that kid’s beauty pageants are the weirdest thing in the history of the world. And the whole film is topped off by a dance sequence that may be the greatest and certainly most incisive in cinema history.
You know why both Little Miss Sunshine and Juno are really good films and all the shitty pale imitations are shitty pale imitations? Both of them have really exceptional and most importantly original scripts. This one is a weird script in some ways. It is simultaneously really artistic, no one would ever say a lot of these things, but despite that it also manages to be incredibly true to life. The film is also boosted massively by the fact that the cast is exceptional, and many of the cast are giving if not career best performances, then pretty close to it – Toni Collette, Abigail Bresnan, Steve Carrell (he has never been in the same ballpark of awesomeness as he is in this film), Paul Dano and Greg Kinnear for example. Carrel’s character is an interesting one to consider the film, and its merits through. There is a lot going on there, but really his character is a peripheral figure. It says a lot about the film and the script that a fringe character is so three dimensional and well written. That is also true of Dano’s character, who aside from one big (and crushing moment) is really in the background with Carrell, adding so much colour and surprising depth to the film. Even caricature characters like that of Alan Arkin are not only expertly written, they also manage to some how sit with the tone of the film with no jarring.
Little Miss Sunshine is hilarious filmmaking that also manages to make you both care and feel. If you think about it, there are not that many films you can say that about. If you have never seen this, then you are missing one of the truly great post 2000 films. And if like me you have not checked this out since its release, then it is well and truly time to take another look.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
2014 Progress: 12/101
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This film was good! The character of the grandad was hilarious, Great review! And I agree the script was great.
Thanks Liam. Yeah I love Alan Arkin’s character in this one too.
Great review Tim, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this one!
Thanks Zoe. It is a bloody great film. I’m not really sure how anyone could dislike it actually.
I have no idea, either. It really was fresh, funny, different. That dance scene? I cringe every time I see it!
Weren’t they all great? Nothing like a wonderful script for characters to chew and bring out their best work.
Spot on Cindy. A great script and a whole bunch of really good performances definitely make for a really enjoyable watch.
fantastic little movie! very nice!
A classy choice from you Mr Conclusions.
Fantastic review, Tim! This is one of my favorite movies. Everyone is in top form and the writing is just superb. It’s also one of my favorite cinema-going experiences. The vibe in that room was just amazing. Everyone has having such a great time and we all exploded at the dance scene.
Nice Fernando. Think I only caught this for the first time when it came out on DVD, so missed out on what I’m sure would have been a really fun cinema experience.
Aw, too bad. But hey, it’s a great film on any medium 🙂
Yessir indeed, it is time for me to revisit this. I absolutely love Little Miss Sunshine. Thanks for bringing this one back in front of my eyes. I miss Alan Arkin and Steve Carell together. It just wasn’t the same in Burt Wonderstone. Great review Tim!
Thanks Tom. Urgh, think I had blocked out Burt Wonderstone. That was not a very good film at all. Totally forgot those two were in it together.
Nice job! I’ve only seen this movie once and now I am going to re-visit it very soon. The cast had incredible chemistry in this film and the material was so nuanced. Funny and emotional as heck!
Funny and emotional is spot on Vic. Hopefully you enjoy it when you check it out again.
Love love love this one along with Juno! Both are just so awesome! 🙂 Great review!
Thanks Kim. Yeah I am intending on checking out Juno again soon too.
Great points through out, especially capitalizing on the two greatest assets of the film – namely the script and the cast. I mean the acting elevates the story when needed, tapers down the occasional moments of overly stylized and artful dialogue (as you mentioned) and of course it achieves that rarest emotional resonance whereby the audience begins to invest so heavily in the story not even moments of heavy plot mechanics can sour the ride. A film I immediately took a liking to, very much the same way I did with Juno, Drew Barrymore’s Whip It and a handful of oddball slice of life films as of late — Charlie Countryman, The United States of Leland, and others. Been off the radar for some time, looking forward to returning to reading more of your stuff. Cheers->
Thanks for your comments Rory. Looking forward to having you around these parts more often.
You are totally right on the acting being able to both play it ‘big’ and dial it back when needed. You know, I still haven’t seen Whip It, but your comment has just reminded me that I should check it out. Have been meaning to do so actually.
Yes, I need to stretch my legs more often. As far as Whip It, Drew Barrymore directs and co-produced, this being her directorial debut. It stars Ellen Page, who is just as good if not better than her role in Juno – and vastly…vastly better than the dismal performance she phoned in for ‘Inception’ – which I go into at length in my razor blade review of Nolan’s sleepy disaster.
I guess I really need to get to a review of Whip It, sooner than later. Cheers->
Review of Whip It would be awesome. I will be sure to check out your Inception one out as well if I ever get around to seeing it.