LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris). 101 minutes. Opens Friday (August 4). For venues and times, see Movies, page 91. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Little Miss Sunshine is the kind of film - full of "eccentric" characters in "wacky" situations - that critics usually hate on sight.
A family of misfits drive for three days so that daughter Olive ( Abigail Breslin ) can compete in a beauty pageant. Dad ( Greg Kinnear ) is a failed motivational speaker, brother Dwayne ( Paul Dano ) doesn't talk, Grandpa ( Alan Arkin ) has a drug habit and Uncle Frank ( Steve Carell ) recently attempted suicide. Mom ( Toni Collette ) is the only sane one in the bunch.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris , a couple, are former rock video directors, but they keep the camera mercifully unnoticeable and let the actors do their work. And those performances save the picture. Kinnear and Collette's worst days are better than most superstars could dream of, and Carell proves he's incapable of delivering a dishonest moment on film. The glare he directs at Olive's competitors could bend steel. But the real star is Breslin, who's so natural that she doesn't appear to be acting.
The script turns the quirkiness up to 11, and its lessons, such as "winning isn't everything," have all the sophistication of an after-school special. You may roll your eyes at the twee-ness of Little Miss Sunshine, but you'll be laughing as you do.