Directed by: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Premise: A middle class family takes a cross-country trip in their VW bus to get their young daughter (Abigail Breslin) into the finals of a beauty pageant.
What Works: Little Miss Sunshine is a wonderful little picture. It uses the road trip story structure to put the family’s inner tensions through a rising conflict and bring them to a resolution. The story manages to cut between the entire family and no one character dominates the narrative. As a result the film has a very balanced and complete portrayal of the family. The performances in the film are terrific, especially Alan Arkin as the grandfather and Abigail Breslin as the daughter. One very notable performance is from comedian Steve Carell as the uncle who has recently attempted suicide. It is a funny but very carefully restrained portrayal, the kind of performance we had to wait decades to get from Robin Williams. Carell’s decision to venture into this kind of dramatic role showcases an actor who has a lot more range than we might has suspected.
What Doesn’t: As a road trip film, the story of Little Miss Sunshine is fairly conventional and actually borrows from National Lampoon’s Vacation, although this is a much smarter film and the characters elevate Little Miss Sunshine above a mere formula piece.
Bottom Line: Little Miss Sunshine is a really great example of low budget filmmaking appealing to the strengths of its means. This is a film for those who enjoyed Thumbsucker, National Lampoon’s Vacation, or Easy Rider.
Episode: #108 (September 3, 2006)