Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Directors: Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton

In this Sundance sleeper that delighted and attracted audiences with its ingenuity and the fact that they just don’t make enough intelligent comedic films for adults, the popular topics of familial dysfunction and the American road trip are explored to great effect. Caring mother Toni Collete and motivational speaker Greg Kinnear play two New Mexico parents who pack up their family in an old yellow VW bus and head to California in order to make a girl’s beauty pageant aptly titled Little Miss Sunshine. Coming along for the ride are Colette’s brother, the recently depressed gay Proust scholar, who tried to commit suicide after losing his love, job and genius grant; a heroin snorting grandfather recently kicked out of his retirement community where he was the bachelor of the ball; a young girl with beauty queen dreams, and her brother who, in reverence to Frederic Nietzsche, has taken a vow of silence until he becomes an air force pilot. Darkly hilarious and heartfelt, it starts off with eccentric quirks for quirk sake and foul language guaranteed to shock and awe but breaks out from the pack of typical suburban dysfunction tales as the family gets further away from their home. Alan Arkin as the grandfather and Steve Carell, playing against type as the sad-faced melancholic uncle, steal the show-- the jokes are smart, work well, and the film makes you squirm and giggle at the same time. At its heart the film is a family comedy comprised of feel good fun with an underdog “never give up” message hiding in a rated R package.