New York Magazine


Little Miss Sunshine
  Release Date: 07/26/06 (Future Release)

Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin

Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Rating: (R)
  Running Time
  100 min
  Fox Searchlight
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Little Miss Sunshine is an enchanting anthem to loserdom—a dark comedy that piles on setback after setback and yet never loses its helium. It centers on a family road trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Redondo Beach, California—to a kiddie beauty pageant in which 7-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) is a finalist. It’s odd, because Olive isn’t kiddie-pageant material: She’s a pretty, unaffected little dumpling with a stuck-out tummy. She clearly doesn’t have a prayer. But a fierce determination clings to the family’s have-a-nice-day yellow Volkswagen bus, which looks so tacky against the mythic desert vistas. The bus needs a group push to start, but it never stalls. Like the movie, it runs on sheer pluckiness.

At first, I feared the directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, would hit the QUIRKY button too hard. But Michael Arndt’s script has so much comic invention that the whimsy doesn’t stagnate, and the characters grow in stature and become affecting. Olive’s dad is a failed entrepreneur, and Greg Kinnear finds layer upon layer of vulnerability in his can-do sitcom heartiness. As the foulmouthed, heroin-addicted grandpa, Alan Arkin shows off the kind of genius timing that leavens his character’s nihilism, and Paul Dano plays the weirdo brother (who has taken a vow of silence in deference to Nietzsche) with such angry, beseeching eyes that the teenage misfit is more than a one-joke character. As Olive’s Proust-scholar uncle, who has just botched a suicide attempt after losing a lover to another gay Proust scholar, Steve Carell gives a superb interior performance—a man who could easily take to his bed in a cork-lined room were it not for a plump little girl.

The key to Little Miss Sunshine is that every single one of these people is going to come up against a major obstacle and, in the great American tradition…lose. Lose crushingly. Lose enough to make a person want to pack it in. But when life hands them a lemon, they don’t just make lemonade. They learn to spike it with whiskey and dance their friggin’ heads off.— Reviewed by David Edelstein, New York Magazine

Steve Carell's Smokin'! (July 31-August 7, 2006 issue of New York Magazine)