Saturday, August 12, 2006

Do Yourself a Favor

Three facts about the new movie Little Miss Sunshine:

1) The film got a standing ovation at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
2) During the first 17 days of its release, the film had the highest per theater average of any movie in the United States.
3) The Dallas multiplex where I saw the film today was running it every thirty minutes. Each showing was packed.

Little Miss Sunshine joined two special films on my personal list: Raising Arizona and A Fish Called Wanda. Until this afternoon, those two films were the only ones I'd seen that made me laugh until I cried.

The film is about the dysfunctional Hoover family living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Father Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a motivational speaker slash loser. His wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) is trying to hold the family together in the face of some pretty ugly odds. Grandpa (Alan Arkin), her father-in-law, was kicked out of his nursing home for snorting heroin. She's just picked up her gay brother Frank (Steve Carrell) from a psych hospital after an attempted suicide. Son Dwayne (Paul Dano) wants to be a test pilot and has taken a vow of silence until he reaches his goal. Dwayne greets his Uncle Frank with a hastily written note: "Welcome to Hell."

The only happy member of the Hoover family is seven-year-old Olive, who has just received news that she is one of twelve finalists in the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty contest (the real finalist had to drop out). The contest will be held that weekend in Redondo Beach, California.

Since they can't afford plane fare, the Hoovers pull together to drive Olive to California in the decrepit family VW van. They need to arrive before 3 PM on Sunday in order to qualify for the judging.

The cast is superb. During the five years it took to make the film, Steve Carrell went from a no-name unknown to a star as the result of the success of The 40-Year Old Virgin. His comic timing is impeccable.

Greg Kinnear mouths inane slogans intended to motivate his loser family to new heights of success. Everyone--including his own father--alternately ignore him or roll their eyes whenever he speaks.

Little Abigail Breslin is heartbreakingly optimistic as the bespectacled plump, plain and plucky Olive who greets each setback with a crooked smile. She seems totally unaware of the odds against her as she practices the dance routine her grandfather developed for the "talent" portion of the beauty show. She is so natural that you ache when you see her up against the miniature hookers in the beauty pageant.

Do yourself a favor. RUN, don't walk, to see this movie. You won't regret it.

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