Hysterically funny, deeply touching, occasionally shocking, this wildly original ensemble comedy highlights film’s amazing ability to create an on-screen family that seems as demented, demanding and endearing as your own eccentric relatives in real life. Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette take this seven-year-old daughter (the amazing, Oscar worthy Abigail Breslin) on an ill-fated road trip to participate in a tacky kiddie beauty pageant. Along the way, Collette’s suicidal gay brother (Steve Carell) and teenaged, vow-of-silence son (Paul Dano), interact with the porn-and-drug addicted grandpa (Alan Arkin). Despite salty elements that make the film appropriate only for adults, “Miss Sunshine” conveys an unmistakable pro-family message: the members of your clan may count as maddening and dysfunctional, but you ultimately need and love each other as irreplaceable, essential and life-giving. The vivid, vibrant characterizations provide enough fully-realized, expertly rendered individual portraits to populate a half-dozen excellent movies: concentrated in this spell-binding, laugh-out-loud adventure, there’s an overflow of rewards and abundant “Sunshine” (through some tears).
The second, Steven Isaac of Focus on the Family's Plugged In, sees it as deplorable:
There's no denying that life is sad and ugly and funny, sometimes all at once. So it's not my task here to debate Carell's and Berger's statements. What is my task is dealing with whether such truthfulness should be used as an excuse to fill up a film with better than 50 profanities and obscenities. And depictions of illegal drug abuse. And exhortations for teens to have as much sex as they possibly can. Because those things, along with the heartbreaking sight of a 7-year-old putting on a sex show, are exactly what happens here.Your task, gentle readers: to figure out how to writers ostensibly starting at a similar point can end up at such wildly different destinations. Your comments are welcome.
Tears welled up in my eyes when the Hoovers banded together and finally bonded in the minutes before the credits. I felt for them. I understood them at that moment. And I was rooting wholeheartedly for them to come out on the other side as better people and as a more intact family. But I couldn't stand the fact that their journey toward maturity and selflessness came at Olive's expense. To make a compelling, artistic, emotional, funny movie, screenwriter Michael Arndt didn't have to make the climax revolve around a child imitating a striptease. He didn't have to include a grandfather who in real life, and with all due consideration to family unity, should have long ago been separated from the lives of his grandchildren because of his incredibly immoral and dangerous behavior and influence. And he didn't have to punctuate every point with an f-word.
Call this, then, the Little Miss Indie Film That Hates Sunshine. "Without all the things we loved about it—the raunchy language, the outrageous behavior—it would have been the perfect family comedy," says its co-director Valerie Faris. "But we wanted to make a film not about family values, but about the value of family."
It shouldn't be so easy to separate the two.