Little Miss Sunshine; Comedy/Drama, USA, 2006; D: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, S: Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Abigail Breslin, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin
Uncle Frank, a cynical gay professor, is recovering from his suicide attempt. His sister Sheryl picks him up and lets him stay at her home. Sheryl's husband Richard is a winner obsessed writer, their depressed son Dwayne hasn't spoken for 9 months, their daughter Olive is practicing to perform in a child beauty pageant with her eccentric grandpa. When Olive finds out she has qualified to attend the Little Miss Sunshine contest in Redondo Beach, California, the whole family agrees to take a road trip with a yellow mini-bus to enlist her there. During the long trip the family gets into a lot of trouble, and grandpa dies from a heart attack. Still, they manage to enlist Olive in the contest, but she gets disqualified for her "strange" dance.
"Little Miss Sunshine" is, in a way, basically a different version of "National Lampoon's Vacation" made with sophistication. Namely, despite being a simple, uplifting "crowd pleaser", "Sunshine" is actually pretty smart, funny and skilfully written story; not much can be learned from it that wasn't already shown in previous films (alas, Americans are not too familiar with a similar, brilliant Serbian comedy "Ko to tamo peva") and the drama parts weren't exactly subtly incorporated into the plot, but it's an energetic film that starts slowly but becomes better and better with time. If it weren't for some of the swearing, this would truly be a perfect family film for both kids and grown ups, with a nice message about a family that comes together during problems, while it also at the same time denounces humanity's obsession with appearance and success. The story is full of simple jokes, but they tell a lot about the characters. Abigail Breslin is wonderful as the title girl, but Steve Carell simply steals the show in his brilliant portrayal of the cynical uncle, Frank. One of the best jokes is actually surprisingly childish; it's the one where the horn in the mini-bus gets jammed in the middle of the highway, causing annoying (and hilarious) squeaking sounds during the drive. And the finale, in which Olive does her "unusual" dance to the tune of Rick James' song "Super Freak", contains such a funny punchline that it lasts for hours after the film has ended. Actually, if there was an award for the best ending, "Little Miss Sunshine" would have definitely won it.