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MiraJeff embraces LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE in a creepy way!!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with our own MiraJeff's review of the indie comedy LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. First heard about this flick at Sundance. Steve Carell is the man. Alan Arkin is the man. I'm there. Enjoy MiraJeff's take on it!

Greetings AICN, MiraJeff here with a look at Little Miss Sunshine, the quirky indie comedy from writer Michael Arndt and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. This one’s been coasting on waves of buzz ever since it debuted at Sundance earlier this year but to be perfectly honest, Little Miss Sunshine is probably not the breakthrough it’s being built up to be, although it is probably the most original comedy in years. The writing is funny and mature and the performances are simply stellar all around.

Little Miss Sunshine is a movie that can’t really be described in one neat sentence. Its new tagline goes a long way towards providing a plot synopsis- A family on the verge of a breakdown. There’s patriarch Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear), a Tony Robbins-wannabe without the track record of success. He’s desperate to market his 9-step program for self-improvement but the problem isn’t the idea, it’s him. His wife, Sheryl (Toni Collette) is the least eccentric character and acts as the glue that holds the family together. Her gay, suicidal brother, Frank (Steve Carell) is the world’s leading Proust scholar who comes to live with the family when he’s released from the hospital after trying to kill himself because his boyfriend left him for the 2nd leading Proust scholar. There’s also Richard’s foul-mouthed father (Alan Arkin) who was kicked out of his retirement home for snorting heroin. The Hoover children are a conundrum of their own. Dwayne (Paul Dano) is a Nietzsche-reading disillusioned teenager who has taken a vow of silence until he fulfills his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot. And last but not least is Little Miss Sunshine herself, the adorable Olive (Abigail Breslin), a slightly chubby seven year-old who stares through innocent, naïve eyes at the stick-thin women who populate televised beauty pageants, yearning to be one of them.

Little Miss Sunshine is a winner based on the strength of its script and the quality of its performances. Breslin, who started out as Mel Gibson’s daughter in Signs and most recently appeared in the hidden gem Keane, is a wonder to watch. She more than holds her own against the veteran cast and even pulls off the film’s most emotional scene, a beautiful moment where Olive confesses to Grandpa that she’s nervous about performing at the pageant. Dakota Fanning should be on the lookout. Dano, who earned his stripes in L.I.E. and The Girl Next Door, turns in another subtly nuanced, impressive performance. It’s hard enough playing a mute character, but Dano’s deadpan reactions and general demeanor are hilarious. Arkin gets the best lines to work worth and everything out of his mouth is comic gold. Collette has the least to do in the picture and the character kind of fades into the background in the final act, but the rally cry she gives her family in a hospital waiting room is one of the film’s more affecting scenes. Kinnear follows up his great work in The Matador with another solid performance as the household decision-maker who hates losing but inevitably learns to embrace failure. But if there’s one actor who stands out in Little Miss Sunshine it’s Carell, who continues to prove his versatility as the depressed fountain of sarcasm, Uncle Frank. This is a sleeper performance that stands an outside chance of being nominated for Best Supporting Actor come January, if the film’s word-of-mouth gives it legs through summer. There are also some very funny minor characters played by Bryan Cranston, Beth Grant, Wallace Langham, and Mary Lynn Rajskub, in full Chloe mode.

The script is dark but refreshing and Arndt is certainly a writer with something to say, commenting on America’s obsessions with beauty and winning. The direction by Dayton and Faris is light and fun, and the pace never drags during the Hoovers’ laugh-inducing, cringe-worthy road trip. The score by composer Mychael Danna and up-and-coming band Devotchka is glorious if not a bit repetitive. I couldn’t help but think I was listening to the Everything Is Illuminated trailer on repeat. Singer-songwriter Sufjian Stevens also contributes a couple of cool tracks.

So with all these heaps of praise, why isn’t Little Miss Sunshine the breakthrough some critics are hailing it as? Well something about the third act didn’t sit well with me. Once we actually get to the pageant, the movie kind of falters. It doesn’t quite stumble, it just isn’t as funny as what came before it. The big reveal at the pageant (Olive’s performance) felt kind of fake and/or stupid. How can the Hoovers drive hundreds of miles and not once even ask their daughter what she plans on doing for the talent portion of the show? I know there were a million ways the pageant could have gone but I can’t really say I liked what the filmmakers ended up doing with it. To veer into minor spoiler territory, I like that the Hoovers reunite onstage and rediscover their passion for life, dancing and laughing and smiling together, but it all felt too tidy for me. It rang a little false. In fact, I know some of the ending is false because Olive’s act was originally choreographed to a ZZ Top song but there were issues with the rights and the result is that we get Olive shimmying to Rick James’ "Superfreak," which isn’t what I had in mind, but then again, who the hell am I?

That said, I whole-heartedly recommend Little Miss Sunshine because it is a very good movie, just not a great one. There are plenty of laughs and a story full of characters we really, truly care about. It’s unconventional but not the least bit pretentious. Dayton and Faris are veteran music-video directors and judging from their first feature, I’d say they have a long, fruitful career ahead of them. The same goes for Arndt, who I’m sure will have studios hunting him down to write something. The movie isn’t for everyone but art house audiences will eat this up. I know the film had a tough time getting made, but everyone who stuck with this one for the long haul should be proud. It really is an impressive debut for Dayton and Faris and a showcase for all the talented actors involved. I promise it’ll make you laugh in a really uncomfortable but still good way.

That’ll do it for me, folks. I’ve got some very cool screenings coming up for Science of Sleep and 13 Tzameti, as well as reviews of The Descent and The Quiet. Fans and haters, your emails are welcome at mirajeff@aintitcool.com. ‘Til then this is MiraJeff, signing off…



Readers Talkback
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  • July 27, 2006, 3:59 a.m. CST

    first

    by BadMrWonka

    to say Steve Carell is hilarious, and I will see this no matter what...

  • July 27, 2006, 4 a.m. CST

    Second

    by Animus

    Why do people do this...?

  • July 27, 2006, 4:45 a.m. CST

    Third

    by clag_kent

  • July 27, 2006, 4:46 a.m. CST

    Stop, please stop

    by VanLingoMungo

    Please stop doing the "First" and "Second" thing. Please. Nobody cares. Really, you're a nightmare. You're the first to post on an internet webstite. That's great. Good for you. You happen to do so on a post with a great movie. Little Miss Sunshine is awsome. I happen to live in Westwood, and have already seen it. It's great. Why, oh why, do people feel compelled to claim "first". Is it because you've never won anything in your life? Are you that sorry a loser. Have you never claimed a real victory? Please, please stop. You're just embarassing yourself. I'm trying to help you. Please stop the "First" stuff. You just look like a fucking idiot.

  • July 27, 2006, 5:11 a.m. CST

    Fifth

    by cubik

  • July 27, 2006, 6:18 a.m. CST

    Right on VanLingoMungo

    by Banky the Hack

    First posters are almost as lame as people who talk about what affluent suburb of LA they live in as if that constituted a "real victory".

  • July 27, 2006, 7:35 a.m. CST

    A question for HARRY

    by blackshuck

    what's the reason that this website has blacklisted DEADWOOD-arguably the best show on TV? You cover GILMORE GIRLS and SURVIVOR for chrissake, but NO DEADWOOD THREAD? I want to know and three emails have gone unanswered! We now return you to your previously scheduled bitchfest.

  • July 27, 2006, 8:08 a.m. CST

    I worked at the studio putting out Sunshine and

    by Novaman5000

    I read the script and watched alot of the dailies last summer. Eat that, Mr. Westwood. Oh, and NINTH!

  • July 27, 2006, 8:13 a.m. CST

    Oh, and I don't actually think the above makes me

    by Novaman5000

    special in any way, I was just responding to the whole, seeing it early in westwood thing being considered a victory. Still, it was a cool experience.

  • July 27, 2006, 8:21 a.m. CST

    So Mira's main problem was the choreography at the end?

    by brycemonkey

    Un-uh, you need to stop watching 'So You Think You Can Dance?' Girlfriend. because you ain't *all that*! Snap!

  • July 27, 2006, 8:22 a.m. CST

    "malnourished, bratty, little proto-cunt"

    by brycemonkey

    Nice.

  • July 27, 2006, 8:25 a.m. CST

    Yackbacker.....

    by ian216a

    ... you might want to just check what you have as a subject title a little before you post it. The Feds are watching you know.

  • July 27, 2006, 9:15 a.m. CST

    Fourteenth!

    by kevinwillis.net

    I own you all. You know it!

  • July 27, 2006, 9:34 a.m. CST

    Quit Bitching About "Firsts..."

    by hipcheck13

    ...for those of you who've been here longer than two months, "First" is an AICN tradition, much like catchphrases that never go away ("Such a big fan! Can't wait!" "Someone cheets on someone and has a beer," etc.). Lighten up, you high-pressure dilwads, and let those who dig being first proclaim it.

  • July 27, 2006, 9:56 a.m. CST

    To read VanLingoMundo's post, immediately

    by CreasyBear

    followed by cubik's triumphant "Fifth!"? Sublime. That, and ian's call on Yackbacker's seemingly pedophilic half-phrase as his post title. Beautiful posts, gentlemen. I was laughing out loud. (Acronyms are for sissies.)

  • July 27, 2006, 10:01 a.m. CST

    Doesn'

    by Brock Samson

    Anything with Mr. Teeny can't be all bad

  • July 27, 2006, 10:02 a.m. CST

    That's VanLingoMungo, not Mundo. Apologies, man.

    by CreasyBear

    My bad.

  • July 27, 2006, 12:17 p.m. CST

    Look forward to seeing a good movie...

    by vinceklortho

    I've been kinda disappointed this summer. I did like Pirates and I actually liked Superman, two movies that I was NOT hyped for. The two movies I saw this weekend I was really hyped for and didn't like. Now, prepare yourself fellow nerds, I will say two things that will throw you one way and then throw you another...I didn't like Lady in the Water. Now, you agree with me on this sentiment, right? Here's the clincher...I didn't like Clerks 2. Huge disappointment for me. Sorry, but the crude comedy just fell really flat for me and I thought it was so far behind. When was the Hobbits are gay jokes? A couple of years ago? 40-year old Virgin wipes the slate clean with that movie. I love Kevin Smith and me likes M. Night, but I thought these were two steps back. Sorry for the rant...back on topic, look forward to this movie.

  • July 27, 2006, 3:29 p.m. CST

    VanLingoMungo

    by BadMrWonka

    the funny thing is, when people get so twisted and upset for someone typing first, they always end up looking a lot stupider than the first posters. you referred to me as a "sorry loser" but come on man. you're ranting about nothing just for the sake of complaining. so if I'm the "sorry loser" than are you the "angry loser"? have a donut, and relax. life is too short to get upset about things that simply do not matter. the "fifth" posting that creasybear mentioned was pure comedy gold, and you set yourself up as the fodder.

  • July 27, 2006, 3:33 p.m. CST

    oh and

    by BadMrWonka

    20th and 21st...to go with my 1st...get angry

  • July 27, 2006, 5:14 p.m. CST

    I also saw this

    by GTfilmgeek

    in Boston a week or two ago. I agree the ending is kinda hokey, but the whole audience I was with laughed pretty hard at it (as did I).

  • July 27, 2006, 7:51 p.m. CST

    Thank you GOD.

    by Gilkuliehe

    For giving us TONI COLETTE. I'll see anything she's on. And I'll marry her. Laugh all you want idiots, we'll have lots of babies too.

  • July 28, 2006, 12:14 a.m. CST

    why does it hurt when i pee?

    by repoman,man

    just teasin'... i know why.

  • Jan. 22, 2007, 7:13 a.m. CST

    FIRST!!!

    by Chilly

    Now I have two under my belt! Suppose I'd better go watch the actual movie now.

  • Jan. 22, 2007, 7:14 a.m. CST

    FIRST!!!

    by Chilly

    Now I have two under my belt! Suppose I'd better go watch the actual movie now.

  • Jan. 22, 2007, 7:16 a.m. CST

    THIRD!!!

    by Chilly

    Sorry - got a bit cavalier with the 'Post Comment' button.