Not having reviewed too many films this year, I now begin a journey to watch and perhaps review those better films of the year. One that has gathered quite a bit of steam as well as love is Little Miss Sunshine. It is really a rather simple story, one of a girl who has a chance to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant and her family goes through quite a lot of fits and starts to get her there. Once there, not only are they confronted with the horror of small children trying to act like adults, they see in themselves those issues that have plagued them throughout the trip. And the very nice payoff, at least for the audience, is this is no melodrama and their realizations are not showstoppers - just life. We do not normally voice those breakthroughs - they simply occur.
The first time directors and first time screenwriter, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris behind the lens, and Micheal Arndt telling the story, play this film smartly. At first blush, the movie is little more than a feel good story. What helps give such an impression is the simplicity and subtlety of the action. But this is no happy family - each player has his or her problems, up to and including the little girl. The fine thread that is balanced here is showing their issues without stopping the pace and to be sure, the humor.
And this cast is built to be funny. The actor getting the most raves is Alan Arkin, and those raves are deserved. It's a smaller part than I was led to believe but that might be the hype. Regardless, his time on screen is wonderful. Little Abigail Breslin plays young Olive, the beauty queen who is no such thing. Yes, she is cute and has much charm, but this is no child that belongs in a horror show like a child beauty pageant. She is fresh and delightful as she struggles with her dream and the reality that surrounds it. Steve Carroll plays a suicidal homosexual and somehow makes it funny without going out of bounds and heartfelt without taking it too far off the edge. He is another delight as we see a whole new side of his ability.
And then of course we have Greg Kinnear as the "nine-step" father and the brilliant Toni Collette in a movie she has finally found in which she does not steal every scene she is in. It's not that she does not try, but that she has such a splendid cast to work with. To be sure, Paul Dano comes across as my favorite of the film - he of the Nitsche inspired sullen son who has taken a vow of silence. He does much for lack of words to do such. Each and every character in the film is real and honest, and most of all a joy to watch. If the film lacks anything, it is a running time to allow more for us to enjoy their work.
I could go into music, cinematography, scene design and more, but I won't. Because this film does a wonder in making sure each is simply backdrop. Important, yes, but only to convey the simple but deeply profound story that lives underneath. We all want so much from or out of our lives, and in the end we must be content with what it is we have, and more importantly with what we are. It is truly a simple message delivered in a pleasing and many times humorous package. I don't quite think this is Best Picture quality work (in most years) but it is certainly one of the finest pieces of work I have seen not just this year but for quite a few years, truth be told. It is a tight and warming story about a group of disfunctional people who come to realize what is truly good about the world and each other. It is certainly an impressive debut and as stated, the cast is not to be missed. More than worth a rental, if you ask me. Take a look - I guarantee a smile. That is all.