Little Miss Sunshine | Chicago Reader

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This offbeat comedy was hailed at Sundance, snapped up by Fox Searchlight, and given a blue-chip publicity campaign, developments that seem wildly out of sync with its warm regard for the underdog. A fractious family of misfits piles into an ailing VW bus and sets off for California so the youngest (Abigail Breslin) can compete in a children's beauty pageant; suffering each other along the way are her irascible grandfather (Alan Arkin), suicidal uncle (Steve Carell), Nietzsche-obsessed teenage brother (Paul Dano), beleaguered mom (Toni Collette), and abrasive dad (Greg Kinnear), a motivational speaker whose nine-step program for success constantly aggravates the others' sense of failure. As scripted by Michael Arndt, this isn't much more than a glorified sitcom, but it deftly dramatizes our conflicting desires for individuality and an audience to applaud it. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris directed. R, 102 min.

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