Friday, April 8, 2011

Little Miss Sunshine by Jonathan Dayton

Little Miss Sunshine
Directed by Jonathan Dayton
Starring Steve Carrell and Greg Kinnear
Runtime 101 minutes
Rated R

Plot Summary: Olive, played by Abigail Breslin, is a fair-looking little girl who is the second runner up in the qualifying round for a beauty contest. As a result, she and her quirky family must travel to California so she can compete. She is joined by her father who is working on a motivational book, her uncle who recently attempted suicide, her brother who has taken a vow of silence until he becomes an air force pilot, and her grandfather who is absolutely tactless. When they get there, the quirky family finds themselves surrounded by little girls with fake teeth, dyed hair, and seemingly crazy parents.

Critical Analysis: The most likable part of Little Miss Sunshine is its message. Despite the fact that each member of this family is highly individualistic and has their own problems, they come together and help each other out in their time of need. Throughout the film, they each reveal their own problems and inner demons, but each one gets resolved usually through the help of another family member.

The casting in Little Miss Sunshine almost makes the movie alone. Greg Kinnear as a motivational speaker who deploys his methods on his family was spot on. Steve Carrell transcends his usual slapstick comedy for a sarcastic former Proust expert. For a child actor, Abigail Breslin does an amazing job of playing the little girl whom everyone wants to succeed.

The overall package of Little Miss Sunshine is highly appealing. Soundtrack cues from artists like Sufjan Stevens perfectly set the mood for a road trip film. For an independent film, it seems that Dayton worked well with his resources, managing to land a great cast and cheap but workable locations. The clever writing and the overall sympathy for its characters makes Little Miss Sunshine one of the best independent comedies that I have seen.

Reader's Annotation: Olive has been accepted into a beauty contest. Now she and her quirky family must travel in a beat up Volkswagon Bus to make it to California in time.

Author Information: Dayton has mostly worked on music videos other than films. He's directed videos for artists like The Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Offspring.

Genre: independent comedy

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: What is the importance of Olive's brother's outburst when he finds out he is color blind? What will he do now?

Do you think Steve Carrell's character is on a path to healing or will he relapse?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 16 and up

Challenge Issues: language, drug use

Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.

Why I included this title: Despite the fact that Little Miss Sunshine is rated R, I think it is a great film for teens. Olive's brother is a empathetically played troubled teenager and there is a lot of understanding humor in his direction. There are also good lessons to be learned, especially concerning society's standard of beauty with the beauty contest.

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