Headline: Laughs Galore in Dysfunctional
Family Road Flick
Every now and then, along comes an independent flick which slowly builds
an audience via word-of-mouth rather than enjoying its biggest box-office
return right off the bat. This was the case with My Big Fat Greek Wedding,
a sleeper which confounded the critics by gradually grossing over a quarter
billion dollars in spite of so-so reviews and an opening weekend take
of less than a million.
This year, we have another example of this phenomenon in Little Miss Sunshine,
a remarkable road comedy revolving around one of the most comical assemblages
of dysfunctional screen characters in recent memory. The story centers on the
desperate, cross-desert caravan of the Hoover clan to drive from Albuquerque
to Redondo Beach in time for 7 year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) to represent
the state of New Mexico in the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant.
The storyline has shades of Robin Williams’ RV, since Olive’s father,
Richard (Greg Kinnear) has a work-related reason to embark on the adventure,
though that is where the similarities start an end with that relatively funereal
bomb. Rah-rah Richard, an overbearing optimist deep in denial, has written
a nine-step self-help book and is eager for word from his agent as to whether
or not it is going to be published.
By contrast, his wife Sheryl’s (Toni Collette) practicality comes in
handy while dealing with him and the rest of their troubled, intergenerational
family. There’s irascible grandpa (Alan Arkin), who they had to take-in
after he was kicked out of his retirement community for snorting heroin. Then
there’s gay Uncle Frank (Steve Carell), who was just recently released
from a mental institution after slitting his wrists over unrequited love. The
couple’s 15 year-old son, Dwayne (Paul Dano), is a miserable misanthrope
who has taken a vow of silence till he becomes a pilot, and chubby Olive seems
a tad too unpolished in pageant p’s & q’s to compete against
girls groomed for the title.
Nonetheless, this motley crew piles inside the cramped quarters of an unreliable
VW bus to embark on one very eventful, if bittersweet sojourn to Southern California.
Along the way, these endearing oddballs actually manage to win you over while
keeping the laughs coming with their kooky behavior. Despite the neverending
deluge of calamities, the Hoovers persevere, arriving just in time for Olive
to take to the stage, for a tearjerker of a show-stopping finale.
A wonderful, wonderful message movie, warts-an-all!
Excellent (4 stars)