Little Miss Sunshine

★★★★★

Director: Johnathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette
Runtime: 101 min

The Academy Awards have a notable tendency to favour issue films, conscience prickers or historical biopics, and these genres are indeed handsomely represented this year. Little Miss Sunshine, however, is the surprise inclusion – the dark horse.

Emerging from the Sundance Film Festival, it is an oddball comedy following a massively dysfunctional family’s roadtrip to California to enter daughter Olive in a national beauty pageant. Its phenomenally high-calibre cast all excel in their portrayals of a nucleus of, frankly, losers.

It is hard to single out one performance for special praise. Kinnear and Collette maintain their traditional high standards, Paul Dano is an emerging comedy talent, and Steve Carell is massively impressive as the suicidal Frank, in a performance of economy and nuance that is a world away from his painfully energetic performances of the Frat Pack inclination.

The shining lights of the film, however, come from the extreme ends of the age-spectrum in Olive (Abigail Breslin) and Grandpa (Alan Arkin). Grandpa in particular is hilarious – the embodiment of growing old ungracefully. He provides the main body of humour in a plot that is rarely contrived or forced in its comedy.

The plot may be unremarkable and even predictable, but the storyline is not this movie’s appeal. Sunshine’s sympathetic portrayals of its dysfunctional characters makes its tone at once wistful, touching, bittersweet and full of heart. It is reminiscent of The Royal Tenenbaums or Sideways except far, far funnier.

This film is not groundbreaking or daring, and it does not conform to the stereotypes of Oscar nominees for Best Film. It is, however, a beautifully told story and a simply brilliant movie that thoroughly deserves its nomination, and maybe even the Award itself.

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