Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine

US, 2006, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

An enjoyable - and often extremely funny - comedy of modern American manners, Little Miss Sunshine makes the most of a potentially mawkish premise with smart direction and an exceptional ensemble cast, who play off each other to great effect. There's a ring of the sitcom to the film's conclusion, but the film generally transcends this with its well-etched characterisations, which are all agreeably spiky (and sometimes, particularly in Greg Kinnear's case, borderline unpleasant). Though the film obviously exaggerates familial dysfunction for comic effect, it also grounds each character in just enough reality for their foibles to remain recognisable, and anyone who's ever taken a family road trip will identify with some of the truths that come out under the tense conditions created by such excessive proximity.

Directors Dayton and Faris display quite a gift for the set-piece (the family dinner that begins the film is exquisitely discomfiting, while a later sequence involving a policeman, a stack of porn magazines and a malfunctioning horn is flat-out hilarious), and for visual jokes - but also, more surprisingly, for direction of actors, drawing pitch-perfect performances from old hands like Alan Arkin and Steve Carell as well as the young Abigail Breslin (who looks like a sunnier version of Heather Matarazzo circa Welcome to the Dollhouse).

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States