Movie Review: Little Miss Sunshine

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
"Little Miss Sunshine" is an intelligent and touching comedy/drama written by first time scriptwriter Michael Arndt, and directed by first time feature helmers, husband and wife team Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton. When I interviewed Faris and Dayton they said they looked for a script for 10 years before they found this one. The couple spent over 20 years co-directing MTV music videos and stylish commercials, like the famous VW spot with the Nick Drake song, "Pink Moon" in the background. They clearly have their fingers on the pulse of what moves people. Faris and Dayton met at UCLA in 1983 when Faris was studying dance and choreography, and Dayton was studying film. They have been a team ever since. Farisí choreography training is reflected in the ensemblesí physical and verbal comedy. The cast moves together as a living organism, like a real family, with invisible threads connecting them all.

The extended family takes a cross-country trip in their broken down VW bus to support their 7 year-old daughter, Olive, in her quest to win the crown at the Little Miss Sunshine finals. Although the press views this family as uber quirky and dysfunctional, letís face it, every family has their eccentric characters. And this family is believable. The casting reaches the level of a work of art, all the way down to the bit parts. I wonít give it away, but you have to see this film to believe the bit part characters!

Abigail Breslin plays Olive with aplomb; at age 10 Breslin has already been in over a dozen movie productions starting with "Signs." Olive and Alan Arkinís ornery Grandpa have an enviable and heart-warming, grandfather-granddaughter relationship. The eternally underrated Alan Arkinís performance as the acerbic heroin-addicted dirty old man cum sweet old guy is affecting and realistic.

As an exercise to help the cast get into the minds of their characters, Ms. Faris and Mr. Dayton said they held pre-production sessions in which actors wrote letters in the voices of their characters and read them to each other, all staying in character.

One of the most interesting teenager roles in memory is Dwayne, played by up and comer Paul Dano, who hates everyone, and refuses to speak. "Paul Dano" is bound to be a household name soon, as evidence by his work in this film and in the recent film which I reviewed recently, "The King."

As a fan of Greg Kinnear since his "Talk Soup" days, it is a pleasure to see him as the father, Richard, the rigid inspirational speaker who canít seem to find lucrative work himself. Kinnear must be happy to have found this witty role, which matches his comedic depth. "The Daley Show" and "40 Year-old Virginís" Steve Carell is masterful at comedic timing, and both physical and verbal comedy. Even though he could have been more believable as an acclaimed Proust scholar, his performance is still luminously funny.

You may remember Toni Collette, the Australian actress, as the suicidal mother in "About a Boy," and as Muriel in the Australian comedy "Murielís Wedding." Ė one of the best of the 90ís. Her Popsicle scene in "Little Miss Sunshine" communicates volumes, and is destined to be a classic. Colletteís Sheryl is the glue that holds the family together, as moms do. She is warm and motherly, her comedic intuition brilliantly realized.

"Little Miss Sunshine" goes to the heart of lifeís truths, one being that calamity can be juxtaposed with hilarity; this film shifts thinking, and lingers long after you see it. Scriptwriter Michael Arndt has written his ticket in Hollywood, and Faris and Dayton will be among the most sought-after directors. A little caveat: Donít watch the previews because they give away too much. But, do enjoy this one, because among all the junk thatís out there, this one is a rare gem that only comes around once in a while. For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield.

Air date: 8/2/06 (Nationally Syndicated Public Radio - over 110 stations)
More Information:
Little Miss Sunshine
Directors: Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton Writer: Michael Arndt With: Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette