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"Little Miss Sunshine"

What a terrific movie! It certainly shows that strong, loving families come in all different shapes and sizes. This was funny and sweet with zero saccharine. As the title of this film otherwise suggests, this is not a “chick-flick” or some kind of feel-good drivel about a precocious, obnoxious or sickeningly sweet child. It’s a very real portrayal of very real people who have their own particular demons and joys – just like all of us – and manage to see life’s overall picture anyway.

Alan Arkin was terrific as the grandfather. Who wouldn’t like him in spite of his drug-snorting, crude-mouth ways? “So what? I’m old!”, he retorted when a family member spoke of his drug addiction. He had a point there and remained grounded in familial loyalty to his fellow characters.

Steve Carell was the funniest suicidal character I’ve ever seen portrayed in any fictional work. His character’s observation (while pushing to jump start a burnt out old van) that he’s the world’s premier Proust authority is hysterical and philosophical at the same time. For him, and for the viewers, it certainly puts the world into pragmatic and realistic focus.

Toni Colette was, as usual, very adept at her characterization of the mother. She was poignantly torn between being carried away with her husband’s delusionary enthusiasm and the plain easy-to-see facts that she was overworked, underpaid and just barely able to throw KFC on the table at the end of the day. Her family was having significant difficulties, but she saw the overall picture too.

Greg Kinnear could have been portrayed as a one-dimensional creepy character with all the “charm” of a revival meeting evangelist bilking people out of their money. His role as a motivational speaker was much more than that. Sure, he was driven by money to a certain extent; but he was a true believer in his “7-Step Plan”. Nevertheless, he was not so out of touch that he couldn’t come back to earth when it really mattered to his family.

Paul Dano was “Dwayne” and Abigail Hoover was “Olive”. Their names are a little dorky and so were they. Dwayne had refused to speak aloud until he achieved his dream of becoming a pilot. Dano played him well as a pasty-faced, adolescent, pain-in-the-butt who isolated himself in his room, reading and re-reading Nietzsche. Though Nietzsche saw nihilism as the outcome of repeated frustrations in the search for life’s meaning, Dwayne transcended (as opposed to “coming down to earth”) this depressing philosophy by making his own meaning. He too saw the overall picture. Olive was a little chubby girl whose enthusiastic optimism nearly crashed during the initial stages of the pathological beauty pageant for little girls. She was rescued by her family while she rescued them.

I had a marvelous time watching this film. It was well-acted, well-directed and well-scripted. There were no special effects – just great art. It’s a wonderful way to say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and to see how the characters discover the difference between the “small stuff” and what’s really precious in life.

-Gretchen

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