Saturday, December 16, 2006


Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin

"A family on the verge of a breakdown"

Cinema 5, Greenbelt 3

This is a quirky situational comedy film with underlining dark themes, personified by a bunch of strange yet endearing characters which unfolds on a road trip.

Richard is a motivational speaker of a nine step program which doesn't quite cut it. Sheryl his wife I assume is a waitress since she has a tag with her name on her outfit. Dwayne, her teen aged son from a previous marriage reads Nietzsche. He has taken a vow of silence until he fulfills his dream of becoming a test pilot. Frank is Sheryl 's gay brother, a top Proust scholar recovering from a suicide attempt. Then you have Grandpa (Richard's dad) who was kicked out of the old folks home for his heroin addiction and little Olive, the 7 year old daughter whose main goal in life is to be a beauty queen. Put all of these strange characters who form one dysfunctional family together in a VW van as they make their 800 miles journey to Redondo, California from New Mexico so little Olive can compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant and voila ... You get one heck of a dark comedy!

En route, their deepest fears and hidden little secrets are revealed in such a subtle yet thought provoking manner, you can't help but be drawn into their anxiety. They unravel both literally and figuratively, facing many obstacles and conflicts yet they strive and persevere till they reach their ultimate destination. In the process, they begin to discover themselves with regards to their main goal in life as well as their rightful place within the family.

A myriad of topics such as homosexuality, child beauty pageants, the need to win, the competitive nature, the passionate desire to be somebody as well as being a Proust scholar are all coherently intertwined in this film.
It doesn't necessarily parody the situations, it just gives us a glimpse into what makes the Hoover family tick. Some situations merit rip roaring laughter yet at the same time, there is a tinge of really sad sequences too. It is a nice blend of different emotions which sets your heart a flutter.
You can't help but think wow how clever of them (the scriptwriters) to come up with such a movie that mixes together all these rarely mentioned situations/subjects.

The characters are very well developed, each of them shining through with their own personality quirks which make them so endearing to watch.
The overall tone of the film gives you this semblance of being some 70s TV show as best exemplified by the crickety VW wagon/van yet the setting is very current and up to date.

The ensemble cast all fit together perfectly like a glove. Greg Kinnear as the 'always think positive' dad was a bit annoying. He came across as being too harsh yet you also understand where he (his need to always excel) is coming from. Toni Collette's facial expressions can convey a whole set of emotions. She was very convincing as Sheryl. A very subdued Steve Carell is excellent as the depressed gay Proust scholar. He delivered his lines with a clear witty retort sans hysterics, it was flawless! Paul Dano spends most of the film in silence. He communicates by writing on a piece of paper but you just look at his face and you clearly know what's on his mind.
I was quite fond of the deep bond which developed between Grandpa and little Olive. The chemistry they shared was heart warming and it does help that Alan Arkin and Abigail Breslin (Signs, Raising Helen) portrayed them with such ease, you would think they were really related. They are the heart and soul of the movie.

Now I know why this indie flick was such a hit at Sundance Film Festival held earlier this year - it is such a delightful treat.

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