Little Miss Sunshine, the laugh out loud comedy, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and written by Michael Arndt is an inspired work of comedy, acting and cinematography.
When young Olive, brilliantly played by Abigail Breslin, is flung into the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant at the list minute, her slightly off kilter family packs into their VW Bus and heads off on a long road trip, so she can compete. Richard, Greg Kinnear’s character, takes the driver’s seat, in every respect. Richard treats life and his family like his 9 step program to self improvement. Paul Dano plays Olive’s brother Dwayne. Dwayne has committed to a vow of silence until he can become a test pilot. Alan Arkin plays Olive’s drug using, potty mouthed, sassy grandpa. Sheryl, played by Toni Collette, is the nurturing and insecure mother. Steve Carell raps up the family tree as Uncle Frank, the suicidal scholar who can’t be left alone.
The writing in “Little Miss Sunshine” is a flawless work of timeless comedy with a sprinkling of ageless wit. Writer Michael Arndt drives this movie from somber to strange and right on to silly. Arndt uses all different kinds of comedy, as if he was creating a fine sauce and avoids making cinematic gruel. Each of these characters’s personalities are so incredibly rich, you feel that you’ve known these people for years. Even more still, I felt that each of the characters is a little bit like me. It is hard to make me laugh audibly, but there was no shortage of snorts and laughter coming from me during “Little Miss Sunshine.”
It’s rare that an entire cast gives an equally exceptional performance but from now on we’ll be able to point to “Little Miss Sunshine” as an example of just that. The more anomalous performances in a film, the exponentially better the film’s quality.
In order to deal with his own insecurities, Richard tries to fix his entire family. He sees them all as losers waiting for his 9 step program. Kinnear performance left me wanting to strangle him, wanting to shake him and laughing at him. Richard is not intentionally funny; his disconnect from reality is unintentionally so. Still Kinnear does a great job of portraying Richard’s insecure mess.
Paul Dano’s role is even more difficult. As you find out in the first few minutes of the movie, Dwayne doesn’t speak. His distain and contempt for his family may be perfectly adolescent but playing such disgust with no words is a feat unto itself. Dano’s ability to show his emotion clearly and unambiguously but with out over acting his mannerisms is admirable and painfully funny.
Sheryl keeps the plot from getting stuck on any one character. She is constantly trying to protect people’s feelings and end fights. She feels responsible for the welfare of every member of her family and it seems that no one feels responsible for her welfare. Toni Collette never gets over emotional or secure. Her performance is deeply complex and yet, simple to understand. Her wavering strength is relatable and hysterical.
Dry hilarity is the only way to explain Steve Carell’s masterful performance. Frank is depressing, his struggles for love saddening and yet, you can’t stop laughing at the situations he and his depression creates. Carell’s character is quick with sarcasm which is perfectly timed and poignantly placed.
Alan Arkin gives new meaning to, “Too old to care” as Grandpa. After years of having to care what people thinks, Grandpa doesn’t care anymore. He does and says what he wants, when he wants to whomever he wants. His high jinks and wild ideas give the movie some of its most memorable moments. He and young Olive have a special relationship that makes the end of the movie nearly bladder emptying and touching.
Young Abigail Breslin made me laugh more than any other character in the movie. Her performance is unrestrained by adult convention. Olive’s innocence keeps the characters in check. Breslin gives such a fearless life to Olive, her performance should be a highlight, even if she becomes an adult actor.
The cinematography in “Little Miss Sunshine” is exceptional. Every single scene’s light, angle and composition are well planned and the attention to detail almost makes the movie worth watching with the sound off. It’s obvious that Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris as well as Director of Photography, Tim Suhrstedt, wanted to make sure that the way each scene was shot matched the current mood.
I think I spent more time laughing in this movie than not. It’s no surprise that this film has earned the label “Comedy” and it is certainly no exaggeration to call it so. Yellow is now my favorite color.