What does it take to make a film the biggest sale in Sundance history? Assemble a talented troupe, add a dysfunction-by-numbers script, throw in moments of tiny triumphs and stir. Then burp.
Little Miss Sunshine unfolds as a series of cloying manipulations and hoary homilies. Which is a shame, since the actors do such an admirable job, though they’re burdened by clunky quirks. Pudgy, pint-size Olive Hoover (Breslin) qualifies for a beauty pageant in California, and her clan—pathetic motivational-speaker papa (Kinnear); harried, too-blunt mom (Collette); mute, Nietzsche-worshipping big bro (Dano); depressive, Proust-quoting gay uncle (Carell); and horse-snorting granddad (Arkin)—hits the road in a clutchless VW bus.
After a few transparent attempts to darken the mood, the film spins off into a sugary bender in the final act, which might as well have been scored to a Sister Sledge jam. If anything, Little Miss Sunshine prompts a larger question: Why do so many American films (particularly the indies) aggressively insist on the redemption of the nuclear family? A more radical vision would’ve had Mom dumping her blowhard spouse; the gay uncle moving on to Genet studies; and the rage-filled teen sibling remaining in the desert. All indie-movie families may start out unhappy in their own way, but by the time the final credits roll, everyone remains complacent, confident of their brood’s superiority. Everybody loves a winner. (Now playing; Click here for venues.) — Melissa Anderson
Cast and crew