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Little Miss Sunshine
It's ironic that one of the most movingly pro-family films of recent years can't be recommended for family audiences: blue language, drug references, and some intensely sexual conversation should restrict this "R-rated" ray of cinematic "Sunshine" to adults, with all children and most teenagers left home. Nevertheless, the combination of robust, realistic characters, sharp dialogue, raw emotion, sweetness, sentimentality, smart twists and laugh-out-loud hilarity will lead you to hug and cherish those offspring when you are re-united with them after the film. The plot centers on a determined but inept motivational speaker (Greg Kinnear) with dreams of sudden success, and his tough, long-suffering wife (Toni Colette) who struggles mightily to hold her fractious family together. Her brother (Steve Carell) has just recovered from a suicide attempt, following a failed gay love affair and a collapsing academic career; her husband's foul-mouthed father (Alan Arkin) also lives with them after an old-age home expelled him for his cocaine habit. Her fifteen year old son from a previous marriage (the spectacularly expressive newcomer Paul Dano) is a follower of Friedrich Nietzche who's taken a vow of silence while dreaming, incongruously, of winning admission to the Air Force Academy so he can learn to fly fighter jets and bombers. The younger child (Abigail Breslin) is a chubby, bespectacled 7-year-old whose sweet, unshakable faith in her own destiny compels the whole family to drive with her on a star-crossed road trip from their home in New Mexico to the "Little Miss Sunshine" child beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California. Their periodically painful adventures come cushioned by abundant laughs, culminating in a host of believable surprises at the compellingly creepy and climactic contest. Each of the characters in the superb ensemble cast counts as a certified (and certifiable) loser but in the course of the picture these lost souls manage to come together to create a familial unit that strengthens each of them, ending their isolation in unexpected, enriching ways. No matter how different your own family experience may be, the relationships feel relevant, real, even familiar. First-timer Michael Arndt provided a screenplay of peerless intelligence and originality, with many lines of dialogue so cleverly crafted that you savor the words at the moment they're spoken. First-time co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (music video veterans who make an effortlessly expert transition to feature films) deserve the first-ever husband-and-wife joint nomination for Best Director at the time of the Academy Awards. Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell and Alan Arkin also emerge as likely Oscar nominees. Along with the unforgettable "United 93," this startling and irresistible dark comedy counts as one of the very best films of the year, so far. Rated R for language, adult themes, and references to sex and pornography.
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