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'Miss Sunshine' Sets Family Comedy on Its Ear

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'Miss Sunshine' Sets Family Comedy on Its Ear

Arts & Life

'Miss Sunshine' Sets Family Comedy on Its Ear

'Miss Sunshine' Sets Family Comedy on Its Ear

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In the new film Little Miss Sunshine, Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, and Greg Kinnear form the nucleus of a hilariously dysfunctional family. NPR's Bob Mondello says family values have rarely been so easy to endorse in a comedy — but it's definitely not for the kiddies.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The actress Toni Collette made her name in a 1994 film called Muriel's Wedding. She played a desperate wannabe bride.

(SOUNDBITE OF MURIEL'S WEDDING)

TONI COLLETTE: (As Muriel) I'm engaged.

RACHEL GRIFFITHS: (As Rhonda) Anyone I know?

COLLETTE: What?

GRIFFITHS: Who?

COLLETTE: Tim.

GRIFFITHS: Who?

COLLETTE: What?

GRIFFITHS: Tim who?

COLLETTE: Simms.

GRIFFITHS: Tim Simms. Don't know him. What's he like?

COLLETTE: Like no one.

END SOUNDBITE

NORRIS: 12 years and more than 20 films later, Toni Collette is having a big summer. She's in two movies. I'll talk with Toni Collette in a moment.

SIEGEL: First, a review of one of those films. It's an independent comedy called Little Miss Sunshine.

Bob Mondello says it's distinguished by its unusually offbeat sense of humor.

BOB MONDELLO: Even in a world where the words dysfunctional and family just seem to go together, the household that produced seven-year-old Olive is special. Her porn loving, heroin addicted grandpa is her coach for beauty pageants. Her 16-year- old brother hates the world and to prove it hasn't spoken to anyone in nine months.

Comparatively normal, sensitive mom has her hands full with a husband who's pushing a nine-step motivational program that doesn't even work for him. And mom's academic brother has just tried to kill himself because the world's second biggest authority on Proust stole his boyfriend. All of which is nothing next to the fuss kicked up by a message on the family's answering machine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE)

JILL TALLEY: (As Cindy) Sheryl, it's Cindy. Remember when Olive was here last month, she was runner-up in the regional Little Miss Sunshine. Well, they just called right now and said that the girl who won had to forfeit her crown. I don't know why, something about diet pills, but anyway, now she has a place in the state contest and we're down to -

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)

MONDELLO: Mom, who is supremely practical as played Toni Collette, would normally just pack Olive off to the pageant, but if she doesn't want her brother to kill himself, her son to burn the house down or Gramps to overdose, they all need to pile into their VW bus. There they will learn that togetherness breeds sarcasm, and also once they reach a hotel, breeds tears on grandpa's shoulder.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE)

ABIGAIL BRESLIN: (As Olive) I don't want to be a loser.

ALAN ARKIN: (As Grandpa) You're not a loser. Where'd you get the idea you're a loser?

BRESLIN: Daddy hates losers.

ARKIN: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up a minute. You know what a loser is? A real loser is somebody that's so afraid of not winning they don't even try. Now, you're trying, right?

BRESLIN: Yeah.

ARKIN: Well, then you're not a loser. We're going to have fun tomorrow, right?

BRESLIN: Yeah.

ARKIN: We're going to tell them all to go to hell. Good night, sweetie. I love you.

MONDELLO: In most family road trip movies, Gramps would not follow-up that tender moment by going into the bathroom and snorting heroin. But this is not a typical road trip. It's easy to imagine how annoying it could be if, say, the National Lampoon folks had made it.

But here, the way the neuroses feed into each other keeps surprising you by turning family disharmony into the odd sort of asset that it can be in real life. I know it sounds unlikely, but Little Miss Sunshine is filled with family values that have rarely been so easy to endorse in a comedy that's definitely not for the kiddies.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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