This was watched in a completely empty Floridian cinema, showing the mainstream appeal of this low budget indie flick. It’s a road movie about a dysfunctional family. That very sentence conjures up images of those films that like to be classed as ’kooky’ or ’quirky’. Films that generally make me want to vomit. But joy to the world because this missed the vomit trigger. Just.
Little Miss Sunshine is about one little girl travelling across America to appear in a little girl beauty contest. Her family are a bunch of crazies. A drug addicted Grandpa (the dry Alan Arkin). A failed motivational speaker dad (a delightfully annoying yet desperate Greg Kinnear). A suicidal uncle (Steve Carrel, a refreshing turn in a serious role rather than his usual ’40-year-old Virgin’ style fodder). A miserable teenage brother who’s taken a vow of silence (sullenly good Paul Dano). And a mum who… erm… hang on. A mum who… no. Nothing. No discernable issue with her. Aha. The writer is a guy and we have a bland, general mum role. Good job it’s been handed to the excellent Toni Collette, whose presence beefs up the role and makes her part of the family, rather than a bit of the scenery.
And then there’s the girl herself, played by newcomer Abigail Breslin in the most natural and likeable fashion. It’ll be interesting to see how that one grows up.
Anyway, all the family pile into a bus and make the two day trek to the competition. And here is where the film splits. One half is your stereotypical road movie. Arguments happen, stuff goes wrong, hilarity ensues. Lots of driving montages. The other half is your typical ’competition’ based film. Be it sports, spelling bees, beauty pageants, dog shows, dance competitions… all will end with a build up to the main event and the final performance with guessable results.
So what’s original? Not a huge amount. But with a stellar cast and sharp dialogue, the film does suck you in. You will laugh, you may cry, and you do come to like the majority of the characters in some way. And what’s grand is that no one really overcomes their issues. There’s a ‘family’ message in there, and a stab at mocking the creepiness of beauty pageants for kids, but other than that there’s no huge resolution. Which is realistic. But may also raise the question, “what is the point?”
With this in mind, the film relies on its characters, which works, but also a few set pieces that verge beyond the ridiculous line. I think initially I was going to give this an extra point for the great acting and absorbing characters, but I may have to deduct a point for the silliness in places, the lack of originality and the insistence on giving the mum no real role. So it drops back to the still recommended-but-not-overly-enthusiastic score of CF0.