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Little Miss Sunshine Review

Published July 28, 2006 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Fox Searchlight.
Little Miss Sunshine Poster Little Miss Sunshine Poster
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what works about Little Miss Sunshine. It’s not necessarily laugh-a-minute, though it’s plenty funny. It’s not necessarily a high concept with big set pieces, though it milks the situation fully. It’s not even a vehicle for distinct comedic personalities, though everyone shines in it.

Little Miss Sunshine Review


Most of the comedy is in the looks and the little gestures. Steve Carell bugging his eyes out as the only sign of emotion in his depressed character, Paul Dano as the silent son who ONLY communicates with dirty looks and Alan Arkin’s immature paper flicking all say way more than a snappy one-liner.

The characters are wonderful. Each one does have a unique personality but it’s not like they’re trying to be memorable caricatures. Abigail Breslin is the most adorable little girl you’ve ever seen on film, running around packing with her big, toothy smile. There’s no obnoxious cutesification.

The depressed brother acts like somebody going through that crisis. Seeing Steve Carell gradually come to live throughout the film is a journey you genuinely root for. The motivational speaker father is just enough of an A-hole to make you believe that he believes his own nonsense. The silent teenager is just mopey enough to make the point but subtle enough that it’s never about “look, he’s still not talking!”

A profane grandpa is funny. It just is. He’s totally committed to the logical and real, only it’s about dirty stuff, and probably decent advice if you must know.



All of this information comes out without feeling like “now we’re going to explain what’s wrong with this guy.” It’s exposition as funny dinner conversation. Families really would have to address it, but it wouldn’t be productive. It would be awkward and uncomfortable, like it is in the film.

The film’s life lessons are real and valid, not overbearing. What defines a loser is kind of important in real life success, as the father clearly has no handle on it. The focus is on the dysfunctional comedy, peppered with morals.

Serious moments don’t come out of the blue. They’re set up in the plot and the tone so it’s not manipulating you just for a tear jerk. It’s the dark humor of reality, in which tragedy can occur and you still have to make do.

Make no mistake. Little Miss Sunshine is not some indie movie full of pop culture and messages. It’s a regular old movie about kooky people forced together for a somewhat silly goal. But a studio would probably try to smooth out the edges and it’s the roughness of it that makes it all work.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Fox Searchlight.
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