Squawk Radio

Friday, September 01, 2006


Ever been to a movie you unequivocally enjoyed and yet were a little wary of recommending it to acquaintances? Maybe this reticence comes from my experiences with moves like “The Royal Tannenbaums” or “Two Days in the Valley” where after I said, “Wow! I loved this movie! You gotta see it!” the people I referred it to were sending me cancelled movie ticket stubs along with requests for reimbursements.

So it is with “Little Miss Sunshine,” one of my favorite movies of this year. It’s got everything working for it that I like in a movie: an ensemble; a cast built around a plot rather than a story manufactured for a star; a quirky, serio-comic set of characters; perfectly detailed and seriously flawed group interactions; clean, real dialogue; and a heart as big as all outdoors.

The plot revolves around the bitterly dysfunctional Hoover family, nominally headed by Richard (the utterly perfect Greg Kinnear) a failed motivational speaker aggressively trying to force his Steps to Success down everyone’s throat, including his family— all of whom have their own quirks and faults. Toni Collette is perfect as Richard’s wife Sheryl who has been struggling to bring home the bacon while Richard pursues his dream and is consequently now barely speaking to Richard. Alan Arkin plays Richard’s father, living with them since he was kicked out of his retirement community for his heroin habit. Also in the house are Sheryl’s teenage son (Paul Dano) from a previous marriage, a kid so deep in the throes of teen angst he’s taken a vow of silence to escape his family (and believe me, teenagers or not, you’d want to, too!), and Sheryl’s brother, played by the extraordinary Steve Carrel, a gay Proust scholar on suicide watch after a failed romance with a grad student.

The only thing the Hoover family can agree on is that the youngest of the family, pudgy six year old Olive, and the only member of the family who has yet to acquire any serious baggage (despite the best efforts of her father in a cringe-inducing scene in a breakfast joint.) By a fluke, Olive, who is obsessed with beauty pageants, has been called in as a last minute replacement in the Little Miss Sunshine contest (“something to do with diet pills.) In a family that regularly watches dreams shrivel and die, all the members come together to make sure that little Olive’s doesn’t.

The Hoovers don’t have a sou, they can’t get along, they are all dealing with extreme disappointments –mostly of their own manufacturing, their transport is an antique VW bus, and they’re running late but by God, they are determined Olive is going to get her shot. What emerges is a story about a family who, despite their pre-occupation with “winning,” are at their core human and humane, with a sweetness and commitment to one another that is a joy. The ending, I have to say, made half the audience I saw this with cheer.

So, yeah, okay. Go see it. But don’t send me your ticket stubs if you don’t like it!
Connie Brockway, 9:40 AM