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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Little Miss shines at the box office

Published: September 8, 2006
Section: Arts, Etc.

For the past month, all I hear about is Snakes on a Plane. Its everywhere. Dedicated fans popped up before the movie even came out. But I didnt see it, so Im not going to write about it. Sorry to all you nutty Snakes enthusiasts.
It was my last day before making the six hour drive up to Brandeis, and I hit that point where all my school friends were already at school and my home friends had left for school, which left me in this bored, friendless limbo. What better to do on a day like that than go to a movie with your family? Hey, they pay, right? But alas, the theatre I was going to is set up mainly for Princeton University students, with only three theaters, all for independent films. No Snakes.
We saw Little Miss Sunshine, an independent film that got great reviews but that no one seemed to know much about. The cast of characters is really what made this film. The story revolves around a dysfunctional family in which the mother, Sheryl, played by Toni Collette (About a Boy, In Her Shoes), struggles to keep her increasingly ridiculous family under control. Her gay brother, Frank (Steve Carrell-The Office, Anchorman) is just out of the hospital for trying to kill himself when one of his grad students left him for another Proust scholar. Her son Dwayne (Paul Dano, Girl Next Door) hates the world, idolizes Nietzsche, and has taken a vow of silence until he can become a pilot. Sheryls husband, Greg Kinnear (As Good as it Gets) is Dwaynes polar opposite, making a living (or really, not making a living) with his nine-step motivational positive attitude bullshit program. Even the grandfather, played by Alan Arkin (Wait Until Dark, Edward Scissorhands) snorts heroin and gives often extremely inappropriate advice to his grandchildren.
In the midst of all this chaos, 7 year old, glasses-wearing Olive wants to win Little Miss Sunshine, a beauty pageant for little girls (what better time for an exaggerated plot involving a childrens pageant than now?). As the family embark upon the two day journey in their banana yellow VW bus, the tension is obvious and ultimately hilarious. Sometimes it seems as though they were all having a battle to see whos the craziest, and theyve hit a stalemate. The combination of the grandfathers blunt attitude towards youth and sex, Richards sickening optimism, Dwaynes sporadic but meaningful notebook scribblings, Franks stinging sarcasm, and Sheryls hopeless attempt to keep them all together is both hysterical and sweet in a way that gets under your skin in all the right places. There were points where I had to stick my arm in my mouth to stop laughing so loud. Partly, thats because Im a bit off myself, but mostly its because this movie was funny in very real kind of way that is rare to capture on film.
Okay, so there was one too many jokes about VW chasing, but other than that, something about the chemistry among the actors and with the script itself just works, and it seems to ooze humor in a way that is both subtle and mesmerizing. Id take it over snakes anyday.