Susan Granger reviews “Little Miss Sunshine”

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The undisputed hit of the Sundance Film Festival was this wry, raunchy, adult-aimed comedy that follows the delightfully dysfunctional Hoover family as they make their way through the Southwest in a broken-down VW bus so that Olive (Abigail Breslin) can compete in the annual “Little Miss Sunshine” beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California.

Sweet-natured Olive is runner-up in the Albuquerque regional so when the winner gets disqualified, she’s eligible – and everyone adores the plump, bespectacled seven year-old.

There’s her tiresome “Refuse to Lose” dad (Greg Kinnear), an overbearing motivational speaker, and her harried, long-suffering mother (Toni Collette) who has just taken custody of her own suicidal brother (”The 40 Year-Old Virgin” Steve Carell), a renowned Proust scholar whose gay partner just dumped him for his professional rival. Also on-board are Olive’s sullen older brother (Paul Dano), a Nietzsche-obsessed student who professes to ‘hate everyone’ and has taken a vow of silence until he’s old enough to become a fighter pilot, and her foul-mouthed Grandpa (Alan Arkin), an irascible curmudgeon who was thrown out of a retirement home because of his heroin habit.Their chaotic, frustration-filled road trip is the brainchild of first-time screenwriter Michael Arndt and veteran husband-and-wife music-video and commercials team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who deftly maneuver the quirky clan through disharmony, disappointments, disasters, even death, demonstrating how life is, after all, one ‘beauty contest’ after another so you should follow your passion wherever it leads.

The ensemble cast is top-notch, but it falls to guileless Abigail Breslin to anchor the edgy satire through the gaudy grotesquerie of the unfolding pageant. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Little Miss Sunshine” is an enchanting, engaging 8, proving that even the most fallible of families is the strongest bulwark against adversity. It’s a real crowd-pleaser.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.