Despite tackling death and dysfunction, indie comedy drama Little Miss Sunshine radiates warmth and charm. Greg Kinnear is wonderfully woe-begone as the success-obsessed patriarch leading his family cross-country in order to enter daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) into a junior beauty pageant. Steve Carell is equally funny as his suicidal brother-in-law, swapping the wide-eyed innocence of The 40 Year Old Virgin for world-weary angst. Toni Collette is underused as Mom, but this combustible mix of characters still fuel a laugh-a-minute road trip.
It's an assured debut for co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who benefit from a sharp and sensitive script by Michael Arndt. Even as Richard (Kinnear) scolds little Olive for eating full-fat ice cream, he draws sympathy as a man who dreams big and ends up feeling small. The humiliation of devising a nine-step plan for success that nobody wants to buy is bad enough, but then he's pulled over by a porno-sniffing traffic cop in a scene to induce both laughter and cringing.
"A WINNING BLEND OF SOPHISTICATION AND SILLINESS"
Occasionally the comic incidents feel a little jarring and clunky, such as Richard's attempt to stash a dead body which stops just short of Weekend At Bernie's. Generally though, the story unfolds with a winning blend of sophistication and silliness. Dayton and Faris boldly satirise traditional American values without the easy cynicism - hilariously encapsulated by Olive's precocious posturing at the beauty contest. More importantly, as the Hoover clan gradually get to know one another, the journey becomes fully engaging and oddly poignant. It will definitely leave you with that feel-good glow.
Little Miss Sunshine is released in UK cinemas on 8th September 2006.