Sunday, March 18, 2012

2006 - Little Miss Sunshine

As we finally wind down the current year of review, don't forget to cast your vote for the next one. Just use the poll sitting on the right hand side of your screen.

The final nominee to ponder from 2006's Best Picture competition is...


Little Miss Sunshine
Directors:
Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Screenplay:
Michael Arndt
Starring:
Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin
Academy Awards:
4 nominations
2 wins, including Best Supporting Actor (Arkin) and Best Original Screenplay

The dysfunctional Hoover family is certainly unique. Dad Richard (Kinnear) is a less than successful motivational speaker with a disdain for losers. His long-suffering wife Sheryl (Collette) tries to keep the family together as best she can. When their naive daughter Olive (Breslin) is unexpectedly selected to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California, the family packs into their yellow and white Kombi van to make the journey. Reluctantly joining them are eldest son Dwayne (Dano) who has taken a vow of silence until he gets his pilot's license, and Sheryl's depressed brother Frank (Carell), a Proust scholar now on suicide watch. For the talent portion of the beauty contest, Olive is learning a dance routine taught to her by her Grandpa (Arkin), the crude senior member of the family who has taken up heroin in his old age because, well, why not?

Little Miss Sunshine is about as charming and quirky as independent cinema gets. The characters are subtly outrageous, finding themselves in funny and awkward situations scene after scene. From the relentlessly uncooperative vehicle to stealing a dead body from a hospital, some of the circumstances may stretch the verisimilitude beyond silly, but the sense of charm remains nonetheless. And it wouldn't be a quirky indie film without its fair share of poignancy. Michael Arndt's Oscar-winning screenplay satirically explores America's arguably unhealthy attitude towards winning and competition, and there is perhaps no greater example of this than the child beauty pageant.

There is awkwardness in Richard's obsession with losers (his 9-step motivational program is entitled Refuse to Lose), especially when he imparts his unsustainable goal of always winning to his young daughter. But the rest of the family is always waiting in the wings to encourage Olive again and remind her that giving it your best is more important and, besides, she's still a kid. While these poignant moments occasionally drift into sentimentality, albeit only slightly, directors Dayton and Faris are careful to keep it to a minimum. Perfection is found, however, in the climactic scene when Olive's family joins her up on stage for her dance routine. Both silly and heartwarming, it is one of those rarities that elicits simultaneous laughter and tears.

As is so often the case in this project (undoubtedly influenced by my choice of career), I find myself praising the cast, who all deliver brilliant performances. Paul Dano brings a touching edge to brooding teenage angst. 10-year-old Abigail Breslin is obliviously cheerful, earning herself a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. And of course Alan Arkin's natural portrayal of a brutally honest man, too old to care about what people think of him any more, is a pure delight, winning him a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

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