Friday, March 30, 2007

Meet the real roadies

Film: Little Miss Sunshine
Director: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, Steve Carell

The Hoover family of New Mexico. Seven-year-old Olive is obsessed with beauty pageants. Her brother Dwayne is influenced by Nietzsche, hates everyone, and has decided to remain mute. Her father, Richard is a motivational speaker yet to get his big break. Her mother Sheryl is a stressed and overworked woman, the latest of her burden being taking care of her gay brother Frank who has just recovered from a failed suicide. Now, the patriarch of the family, Edwin is a heroin-snorting, foul-mouthing old man.
This is the star cast. The story begins when Olive is selected for the Miss Little Sunshine beauty pageant. To keep her hopes alive, the family embarks on a two-day roadtrip to California in a Volkswagen mini bus. On the road, the family members come face to face with their realities. Frank meets his ex-boyfriend, Richard sees his ambition going up in smoke, Dwayne realises that he cannot be what he wants to be, and as Sheryl struggles to protect everyone, Edwin dies of heroin-overdose.
Yet the family reaches California and this is where they realise that what they need more than anything else is each other. And as you shed a tear or two, the family returns home happy as ever.
What’s great about the movie? Charming, precisely. They don’t make movies anymore like this with such well-defined characters!
I mean, at the first glance, the film sounds like one of those movies Hollywood is great at making where a disaster or something makes a dysfunctional family unite together and saves not only their family but the world too. But as the film ends what strikes you is the reality of situations, in a quirky sort of way, of course, which even if you do not identify with, you can connect to.
The film works on several grounds. First, a rock-solid script. Screenwriter Michael Arndt won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and this is not a fluke. He knows how to tell the story and he knows how to present the characters. Each character in the family has its individual traits, mannerisms and quirkiness, and the way the screenplay brings them to the fore is just amazing. There are no comments, no heroism, no villainy, but 3D characters as you see them in real life. The grandfather may be an addict and a vulgar old man, but you end up liking him.
Second, the acting for the star cast. Abigail Breslin as Olive literally steals the show. The maturity she displays on screen is just amazing. She’s the centre of the film and she carries the role effortlessly. She surely deserved the Oscar.
Alan Arkin as grandpa takes home the Oscar too, and you had to give it to him. He combines the two roles of an irritating old man and a coach to Olive’s show with such brilliance. And how can you ignore Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, The Sixth Sense)? She is one of the finest actors in Hollywood and she delivers a knockout performance.
Directed by husband-wife duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Little Miss Sunshine is a small independent film, which was nominated for Best Film of the Year at the Oscars. If nothing else, this should be your reason to watch.
A combination of family drama and road movie, the film is neither a drama, nor a full-blown comedy, but a combination of two --- dark, quirky, funny and full of pathos.
A note on the title. It’s not only the name of the beauty pageant, but also the sun rays, rays of hope that everything's not lost yet. The family's still there.

Rating ***1/2

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