Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Little Miss Sunshine

Film #275

THE PLOT

A family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their VW bus.

Year 1, Day 275

BEFORE: I regret to inform you that today will be the last film in the movie marathon… April Fools! I know, horrible joke but I had to do something I guess. Anyway, today is the start of what will be a lengthy comedy chain that will span across two months (April and May) with a few breaks in between. Little Miss Sunshine kicks things off and actually begins a mini Steve Carell subchain. Michael Arndt, who went on to write the screenplay for Toy Story 3 and will pen the upcoming Star Wars sequels, won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and is one of many reasons I’ve wanted to see this for a while now.

AFTER: Pretty much the only thing I knew about the film going into it was the old yellow VW van that the family drives. It plays quite a large part in the film but there is a lot more than just a semi-functioning vehicle. At the heart of the story is a dysfunctional family that has a simple goal but is faced with obstacles along the way. These trials and tribulations are what make the film so special and so entertaining, but it can result in some question marks along the way.

Looking at this family you may think it isn’t a lot of characters. There’s just the main six - Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear), his wife Sheryl (Toni Collette), son Dwayne (Paul Dano), daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin), grandfather Edwin (Alan Arkin), and uncle Frank (Steve Carell) - but at the same time that’s a lot of people to get to know in a short period of time. And yet that’s what happens. By the end of the film (just a measly 101 minutes) it’s as if you’ve known this family for a while, like they were neighbors you actually hung out with (I barely know any of my neighbors). It’s this depth in character and family dynamic that makes the film so great. Part of it’s the story itself - the family’s journey to get to California so Olive can participate in a pageant show - but the rest is just watching this family in their natural habitat, or rather, not in their natural habitat. They are forced to be together for an extended period of time as they drive all the way to their destination. Every five minutes something new is happening, another twist is thrown into their plans and slows them down yet again. This is what gives the film it’s fantastic humor (I was laughing quite often and quite loudly) and an overall entertainment value.

However, despite all the fun you have watching this family go from point A to point B (speaking of which, you might find this game highly engaging and fun), I was left questioning things. Not in the sense that I didn’t understand what was going on - there’s really no mystery with what happens. But I was questioning more of the “why”. The whole premise is interesting and it sets up and allows for all the great and entertaining interactions I described before, but at the same time, “why”? Why couldn’t just the mom and Olive fly out to the competition themselves? What purpose did Frank’s backstory have besides providing a reason to have him as a character? Why was the communication between the father and his publisher Stan Grossman (Bryan Cranston) such a difficulty? Again, not really puzzling questions as the answers are pretty clear, but it’s more of a why did the filmmakers choose to go this route? Not a knock on the film itself but something that holds it back from an unconditional praise for the film.

Little Miss Sunshine was a great way to start off this comedy chain. It delivered many laughs which is always a positive, and it also had a bunch of interesting characters, all part of one great dysfunctional family that you really get to know by the end of the film. A few reservations about the direction of the film and certain story decisions, but overall that’s not a negative about the film itself but on the lasting impact it will have. A film which is worth a watch (and perhaps rewatch), but not one of those films you’d immediately pick or drop everything just to watch it.

RATING: 4 out of 5