Little Miss Sunshine (15)

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Written by Michael Arndt
Screening at FACT from 8th-28th September 2006

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are a successful husband-and-wife team, who have made their names directing videos for the Smashing Pumpkins, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction and some bands I don’t like. With Little Miss Sunshine, they turn their attention to the big screen, and bring us this amusing family comedy, which combines All-American grotesquery and a bit of philosophy.

Richard (Greg Kinnear) and Sheryl (Toni Collette) are a middle class American couple with big middle class ambitions. When Sheryl’s brother (Steve Carell) fails in his latest venture – to commit suicide – the family want to put him on the road to success. In that case, perhaps it isn’t a great idea to make him share a room with their adolescent son (Paul Dano), who has taken a vow of silence, but scribbles ‘welcome to hell’ on a writing pad. Meanwhile, the porn-loving, cocaine-snorting, perma-swearing grandfather (Alan Arkin) makes more than the occasional embarrassing remark.

When Greg and Sheryl’s tiny daughter (Abigail Breslin) qualifies for the final of the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, the whole gang piles into a dilapidated yellow camper van and make for California. The vehicle seems permanently on the verge of a breakdown, as do the fractured family it is carrying towards destiny and their American dreams.

Michael Arndt says he was moved to write Little Miss Sunshine when he heard California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declare: “If there’s one thing in this world I despise, it’s losers”. Arndt’s intelligent script probes this Nietzschean attitude, finding it empty and worth making a joke out of. Several little things don’t quite ring true, but the idea that a family of frail people is more suited to starting a van than one supposed strongman is certainly not one of them. A comedy hasn’t impressed me this much for a long time.

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