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Little Miss Sunshine Reviews

What makes husband-and-wife directing team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' hilarious debut such a great family film isn't that it's suitable for the whole family (it's not), but that it speaks a simple truth about what it means to be part of one. No matter how screwed up they may seem, sometimes they're all you've got. And no family could appear more dysfunctional than the Hoovers of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Patriarch Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear), a motivational speaker who hopes to make his fortune marketing a new success formula he calls the "Nine Steps," preaches a "be in it to win it" philosophy, but is himself the very model of failure. He's bankrupt, and if his agent doesn't sell the "Nine Steps" to an interested party soon, he'll be ruined. Wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) tries her hardest to support Richard both emotionally and financially, but already has enough to contend with. Dwayne (Paul Dano), her dour, Nietzsche- worshipping 15-year-old son from a previous marriage, hasn't spoken for the past nine months and refuses to utter another word until he's achieved his goal: acceptance to flight school. Sheryl has also become by default the guardian of her brother Frank (Steve Carell), self-proclaimed No. 1 Proust scholar in the country, whose career hit a speed bump after his unrequited passion for a grad student culminated in a suicide attempt and an indefinite hiatus from the university. And then there's Richard's freethinking father (Alan Arkin), who's been sleeping on the Hoovers' couch ever since he was kicked out of an adult home for indulging his new-found hobby: snorting heroin. Between lines, Grandpa's been training the youngest member of the Hoover household, 7-year-old Olive (irresistible newcomer Abigail Breslin), to compete in kiddie beauty pageants, regardless of the fact that the plump, bespectacled Olive was hardly cast from the JonBenet Ramsey mold. Olive's dream of competing becomes an unexpected reality after a freak accident involving diet pills creates an opening in the upcoming Little Miss Sunshine pageant — if the Hoovers can make it to Redondo Beach, California, in time to register her. Thanks to Richard's financial mismanagement, the Hoovers have no choice but to drive there in their dodgy VW van, and since suicidal Paul can't be left alone, he'll have to come along. Unlike the recent THE TALENT GIVEN US, which also followed a fractured family on a road trip to California, the time you're asked to spend trapped in a car with these oddballs is actually enjoyable; the ensemble cast plays off one another perfectly. Michael Arndt's script manages to be genuinely heartwarming without once resorting to cheap emotional trickery, and by the time Olive takes the stage in Redondo Beach, you'll want to scoop the whole thing up in your arms and give it a great big hug.