Long live the little film. That project with the epic cast, seduced by a clever script, that explores the inevitable dysfunctional family matrix filled with endless disappointments and painfully unconditional love – on a very small budget. This film is not a gorgeously tragic Hollywood saga like “American Beauty,” but more a rough and rambling road trip where each of the six primary characters manages to have at least one significant epiphany en route to California from Arizona in an old VW bus.
Like any movie that examines something as obviously flammable as a child beauty pageant, it is easy to preoccupy on the treatment of and depiction of its extended participants. “Little Miss Sunshine” isn’t really a film about pageants, but more a metaphor about the false smiles and frowns we all wear to help define our world. Each character is so expertly drafted that you can’t help but fall for each of their quirky eccentricities the way you would if they were those of your own family. From the painful optimism of Greg Kenner’s aspiring self help guru, to the over-the-top depression of Steve Carrel’s gay Proust scholar, to the crotchety bluntness of Alan Arkin, each personality draws you in and makes you feel at home and part of this weird and wonderful family.
Some movies feel the need to tackle small issues in a big cinematic way, while others tackle the biggest human issues in modest compact ways. “Little Miss Sunshine” does away with slick production gloss, and as such allows you to focus on the words and emotions of a group of unexceptional but fascinating people. It works so so well.