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Film Review: Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows

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There are hundreds of movies pimped to Utah's Sundance Film Festival every year, filmmakers hoping against galactic-level odds their film will be one of the few optioned to a large production house when it's all over. Most movies don't make it out of the festival circuit and, frankly, most don't deserve to. Every now and then, though, there comes a film like Little Miss Sunshine--a picture so flawless it's a wonder it wasn't picked up sooner.

Little Miss Sunshine follows the misadventures of the dysfunctional Hoover family as they travel across several states to enter their youngest, Olive (Abagail Breslin), into the renowned Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. While many viewers might expect a movie starring Steve Carell and Greg Kinear to aim for over-the-top crack-ups, Sunshine plays it pretty straight, only delving into the uncouthoccasionally.

Instead, much of the film's uproarious laughter is generated from a snide, bitter sense of irony present in the writing, and the rich characters' many quirks. Dad (Kinear) is a fast-failing motivational speaker, Uncle Frank (Carell) is an extremely gay, suicidal university professor, Brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) has taken a vow of silence and Grandpa (Alan Arkin) is a womanizing coke-head. Only Mom (Toni Collette) is without some kind of amusing schtick, but rather than taking anything away, she acts as an emotional ground to the rest of the outlandish cast, inviting the audience into their bizarre world.

Moving effortlessly from moments of hysteria and whimsy to bouts of darkness, sarcasm and tear-jerking drama, the film often leaves audiences laughing out of sheer exhaustion. Horror lurks at the corners of the screen as a police officer seems to be nearing the discovery of a stolen corpse in the trunk of the family's Volkswagon van. Dad shouts "It's not illegal!" as a stack of pornographic magazines fall onto the officer's feet, distracting him enough to ignore the lumpy blanket they rested on. Horror runs off with its tail between its legs. It's this sort of emotional marathon that will keep audiences hanging on through every twist, turn and sharp corner, right up until the extremely satisfying conclusion.

While the masterfully crafted, expertly directed story is the reason to see the film, it's carried through by fabulous performances by all involved. Arkin and Collette flex their experienced acting muscles, Kinear wins himself back a few points lost by his role in The Matador, and Carell does a hell of a job as the most conflicted character in the piece. Despite inexperience, Dano and Breslin are also pretty much perfect, though in Breslin's case this could be due to the fact that she's cuter than a puppy hugging a rainbow.

With its surfeit of amazing strengths and no perceptible flaws, Little Miss Sunshine is easily one of the most memorable movies of the summer, if not, the year. Heartwarming, intelligent, darkly humorous and a whole lot of fun, it's a hard film to summarize effectively. If there was one way, however, it would be "absolutely perfect.

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