ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  jonathan dayton

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  dark comedy

LENGTH  -  101 minutes

RELEASED  -  26 july 2006

DISTRIBUTOR  -  fox searchlight pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  little miss sunshine

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $8,000,000
little miss sunshine - a shot from the film


buy the cd from little miss sunshine at

buy the cd from little miss sunshine at

a family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their vw van.

the movie took five years to make, mostly due to financial reasons.


picture from little miss sunshine

picture from little miss sunshine

picture from little miss sunshine

picture from little miss sunshine

picture from little miss sunshine


three out of four possible stars

Regarding the widely held assumption that "it's an independent film, so it's got to be good," Little Miss Sunshine can't fully back up that claim, though by the time the end credits roll, a good portion of the audience should find a theatrical viewing a rewarding experience. Due in part to a slow beginning and problems regarding the "inciting incident," it's not until the second act that Sunshine starts to roll along comfortably and with enough humor. Despite strong performances up and down the cast roster, there are some basic problems regarding script construction that should have been ironed out before filming began.

In an effort to turn the story into a road trip movie, the screenwriters create a few difficulties and problems for the family to overcome, forcing them to head out in a dilapidated van to bring their daughter to a California-based beauty pageant. Although the family relationships and foibles are introduced in a timely manner, the reasons for and time spent getting the family on the road don't seem dire enough to really force them into the road trip. Once the film fully crosses over into road trip territory, the story starts trotting along at a suitable pace, but it's not until that van gets on the road that the film starts to flow.

Star Greg Kinnear plays his role as "Richard," a motivational speaker and father with his usual enthusiasm for a role and as his wife, Toni Collette plays "Sheryl" with equal confidence. They are a believable duo as a married couple and bring realism to their portrayal as two people who are equally annoyed at and in love with one another. Playing "Grandpa," Alan Arkin also gives a viable performance, with his character providing some of the best lines in the film. Also blessed with good verbiage is Steve Carell, who plays recent suicide attempter and Collette's brother, "Frank." Carell has a sincere ability to sink deeply into each role he plays and despite his well-known persona on the television show, "The Office," viewers will see an entirely different type of performance from Carell in this film.

Although audiences might have a difficult time believing actor Paul Dano is a young teen (he's around 22-years-old), his performance as Kinnear's son is nevertheless an interesting one given his character's silence throughout most of the film. Having taken an oath not to speak so as to prove his "worthiness" to be an air force pilot, the first word he ends up uttering is one of the funniest of the entire film. But Dano isn't alone in bringing humor to the audience as the entire cast joins him in a film that has its good share of laugh-out-loud exchanges (and there are an increasing number of them as the film treads on).

Although most of her dialogue is more serious in nature, Abigail Breslin, the focus of the "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant, offers audiences a performance like that of many child stars that makes it difficult to believe she's only around ten years old. As is true with many child stars, Abigail has made a quick journey into "seasoned actor" with several films under her belt in just a few short years of performing (her first film was 2003's Signs) and she seems extremely comfortable in front of the camera. Whether she was aware of the inherent comedy present in her character's questions and statements is unknown, but she certainly wears her character with enthusiasm and believability.

In line with the film's modest budget of less than ten million dollars, the production values reflect the amount of money available for set decoration and design though it looks as though the filmmakers concentrated on ensuring the film had a professional appearance. There is an emphasis in the "indie" world of filmmaking that suggests odd camera techniques and grainy film stock are a requirement, but fortunately for viewers, the makers of this film ignored that edict and spent their budget carefully, constructing a professional visual look that wouldn't overpower the more important element of story and actor performance.

One element of the film that might cause the audience some distress is the musical score. Although the enthusiasm of Mychael Danna's score is a good match for the pithy attitude of the film, many of the tracks seem repetitive, as if the filmmakers weren't able to pay Danna to create a suitable number of different musical themes. And since the few distinct musical themes in the film aren't actually very distinct at all, the staccato droning of the score has the potential to become an annoyance. The score doesn't so much invade the psyche of the film as much as it jumps out at the audience more vividly than it should.

As a modestly budgeted independent film, Little Miss Sunshine brings to the screen the expected combination of humor and strife concerning the human condition and while the beginning is more slowly paced than necessary, it eventually turns into an easily enjoyable theatrical experience. There is the odd occasion where it seems the story and its characters are trying a bit too hard to be quirky, but those instances can be forgiven since there are still many honest, comedic moments in the film to enjoy.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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