There is a song by Devotchka which plays throughout Little Miss Sunshine entitled “How it Ends.” The song goes something to the effect of “You already know how this will end..” but the lyrics never play in the movie which is kind of a strange choice. Compounding the oddity you don’t have any idea how Little Miss Sunshine is going to end because it strikes such a precarious balance between funny and sad. It’s a better version of something like Lonesome Jim and a more marketable rendition of the film Winter Passing. Now that I’ve name checked two films you’ve probably never heard of I should just get down to what this one actually is.
Steve Carell plays a suicidal Proust expert who has been sent to live with his sister (Toni Collette). She’s married to husband (Greg Kinnear) who specializes in self-help seminars. They have two kids, one of whom hasn’t spoken in nine months (he’s preparing to be a fighter pilot) and one who is a fledgling contestant in little girl beauty pageants. To cap off the ensemble Kinnear’s dad is played by Alan Arkin as a heroin addicted senior. The whole gang decides to take a road trip due to a few odd and humorous circumstances and we go from there.
Little Miss Sunshine is a family comedy meets serious road trip style of flick. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this done but then again my memory isn’t what it used to be. It has really nice laughs interspersed with serious and sad moments too. Carell in particular pulls off this dualism well which again brings up the question of why more comedians don’t try serious acting roles. The rumor is this film took five years to make which seems strange given the all-star cast. I think the delay has something to due with the story itself which is ultimately offbeat and quirked out. I can’t imagine how they will market this one as there really isn’t a built in audience anywhere in the 50 states.
The main strength of this one is the fact that there is no telling what will happen next. Some movies try this method and end up not making any sense but Little Miss Sunshine pulls a pretty tight narrative of it. So, if you mix up the innovation and surprise factor you have the reason I’ve graded it so high. The only reason to ding it is the sad fact that not many families are this screwed up; yes all families are somewhat screwed up, but it’s not usually something that is rewarded with comedy back here in the real world. It comes off as a little convenient and easy at times. You really can’t go to the well too often on the drug addicted Grandpa cursing at the suicidal Uncle. I just don’t see that coming together in anything besides a screenplay.
Thankfully there is a tremendous redemptive look at the world of pageantry embedded here. I’ve always been a little freaked out by parents who put their kids into beauty contests at a young age and it seems like the writer here agrees completely. Should we see these kids as cute in their freakish make-up? Is it just a pedophile’s dream? No cow is sacred as Little Miss Sunshine breaks out the scalpel and goes to town. I also sort of wanted to cover the Nietzsche versus Proust debate that seems hinted at but I’ve been informed that this is too esoteric and boring for even our most shut-in of readers. Sorry guys.
In the final verdict if you get a chance to catch this you should. I’m not sure who outside major metropolitan markets will even get a chance at this one, and even then it will be playing at the dreaded “artsy” cinema house that doesn’t ever have parking and is always dimly lit. However, I’ve still got to throw my considerable reviewer weight behind it. There are simply too many bloated huge budget projects that fully bite to not be impressed by this little engine that could. One day when us viewers start rewarding good efforts perhaps they’ll stop cramming the nastiness down our throat. At least that’s what Proust predicted.