Rating: R for language and sexual content
Run Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Refuse to Lose! That’s the credo of this charming little indie that puts generation-gap dysfunction on the map.
The Little Miss in question is sunny 7-year old beauty pageant hopeful Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin), a darling dumpling whose cantankerous grandpa (Alan Arkin) is coaching her in pageant etiquette and a flashy talent number.
Life is not
a bowl of cherries in the
are go when Olive unexpectedly nabs a spot in the penultimate Little Miss
Sunshine competition, kick-starting familial frenzy. The gang is hastily packed
into a last-legs VW van in
It’s hell on wheels from the get-go. Tensions flare while Richard spouts irksome pearls of wisdom (“Sarcasm is the refuge of losers”) and grandpa entertains with glory stories of sexual conquests and heroin binges. The self-possessed reigning Little Miss Chili Pepper is aglow with dreams of pageant glory, patently refusing to buy into brother Dwayne’s (Paul Dano) Nietzsche-worshipping muted angst or Frank’s Proust Scholar superiority.
foolhardy mission is peppered with road-trip mishaps that amuse and annoy, based
on a vanload of sardonic insecurities. Pity and desperation overlaps
belly-busting slapstick from
Ensemble acting is first rate; each and every player coming through with vibrant characterizations that mesh with thespian ease. Emotions bump and grind with gusto; nuanced, detailed and crafted for impact.
Carell the consummate comedian does eloquent drama, who knew? Dano takes his teenage torment to genuine heights and Kinnear and Collette dance around their strained marriage with spontaneous gall.
After extracting easy laughs and tears the ride falls short in the last act. Snappy narrative casts about for a clever climax that ultimately feels manipulative and cliché. No matter, “Sunshine” can be safely crowned a comic winner.