Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
'Little Miss Sunshine' is a fun little comedy that became one of the biggest 'indie' hits of last year. Bizarrely, it's been rated as one of the top 250 films of all time on IMDB, a fact that I regard with more than a little incredulity. It's a good film, a funny film whose merits are overrated; it tries too hard to be quirky and profound.
The film is a road trip comedy about a dysfunctional family that are forced to travel together to get to a children's beauty pageant in time for their young daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) to compete. The family comprises the mother Sheryl (Toni Collette), father Richard (Greg Kinnear), Grandpa (Alan Arkin), Sheryl's mother Frank (Steve Carell), and son Dwayne (Paul Dano). Each family member has some kind of defining characteristic - Grandpa swears and is a drug addict, Richard is obsessed with his crappy self help programme (that he plans to turn into a book), Frank is gay and suicidal, Dwayne has taken a vow of silence, Olive is... well, I dunno, cute and naively optimistic. And the mother Sheryl is... erm, caring? As they travel, most of them are forced to deal with crises relating to their quirks. The van they travel in is used as a metaphor for the family - it's beat up and falling apart and it doesn't work properly, and the only way it can move forward is when they all get together and push it till the engine starts.
The film's characters lack depth and are just quirky, and that too in a contrived manner. Though they're meant to be 'edgy' there's nothing genuinely interesting about their quirks, and the characters' issues are only examined superficially (and predictably). The way the family interacts is fun, but then again there's nothing particularly exceptional about it. It may sound like I'm being negative, but the truth is the film gives off the vibe of thinking that it's deeper than it actually is. The final act focuses on the children's beauty pageant, and is meant to satirize the grotesque nature of such events; the irony of the whole thing is how much more disturbing Olive's performance winds up being, which kind of undermines the themes of the film and makes you reluctant to celebrate with the family when you consider how poorly they've been watching over their child.
Still, it isn't a bad film. As I said, it's funny, occasionally it's downright hilarious, and the cast is very strong and they all do a great job (though again, no one is exceptional). Apart from those funny moments and the cast, every other aspect of the film ranges from OK to decent. It's not bad, but I can't really recommend it. It's... alright, it's entertaining. I can, however, recommend Wes Anderson's The Royal Tennenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou as being better examples of quirky dysfunctional family films. Sure, those films are way more over the top, but beneath their ostentation lies some subtle and genuine emotional drama and engaging characters. And of course, there's always the criminally overlooked TV comedy series Arrested Development.