Little Miss Sunshine
This is the feature film debut for directorial partnership Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and sees them produce a delightful piece of cinema on a par with 2005's Sideways. Like Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine is a road movie that depicts deeply flawed characters in unusual and often forced situations struggling to cope with the pressures of life.
Here we have the Hoover family who are dysfunctional to say the least. Father Richard (Greg Kinnear), a hopelessly optimistic motivational speaker is trying to sell his nine-step programme to being a winner, supported and pitied by his wife (Toni Collette) whose brother (Steve Carell), a troubled Proust scholar, has just failed in his attempt to commit suicide. Meanwhile their Nietzsche obsessed son Dwayne has taken a vow of silence until he fulfils his goal of becoming a pilot while seven year old Olive, a slightly plump, four- eyed little girl dreams of becoming a beauty queen. As if all this wasn't eccentric enough they have a coke-snorting grandfather (Alan Arkin) living with them as well.
The film sees the Hoovers embarking on a long and tiresome journey to California in an old camper van after Olive gains a place in the Little Miss Sunshine finals. What we are treated to along the way is a touching portrait of family dynamics, the difficulties of being young and old and developing the ability to see what is truly important in life. The thing that makes this story so delightful is that the characters never slip into a stereotype, this is largely down to the writing but the subtle and heartfelt acting by everyone makes it compelling viewing. Abigail Breslin, who plays Olive is utterly charming and truly electrifying to watch but the foul mouthed grandfather is the one that really steals the show, one of his finest moments being his life lessons to the 15 year old son to "fuck a lot of women, not just one, a lot." He then goes on to say what a great position he's in being fifteen as he can have any fifteen year old he wants, if he waits till he's sixteen he could be looking at eight to ten.
The film doesn't try to make any judgements or provide any answers to the problems confronting these characters but that's where it shines. It is quite outrageous at times but always retains reality and with a proper belly laugh ending leaves you on a high. We have been swamped with Hollywood big budget movies this summer but with films like this it's important to remember that the American independent scene is, on the whole, a place of real quality and rare beauty.