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"Little Miss Sunshine"

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
Written by Michael Arndt.
Starring Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette and Steve Carell.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  8/2/06


Judging from the reaction of Sundance earlier this year and the hundreds of people that have seen the film in advance screenings all over the country since, I have to join them in universal applause:  you've got to be crazy to not at least REALLY like "Little Miss Sunshine" as the best dramedy of the year.

The setup:  a 7-year-old girl named Olive (Abigail Breslin) learns that--even though she was the second-place finisher of the regional "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant in Albuquerque, NM--she has won a chance to compete in the national competition in Redondo Beach, CA against 11 other kid beauties from around the country.  So, her extremely dysfunctional family unit--including Dad (Greg Kinnear), a motivational speaker, Mom (Toni Collette), a high-wire ball of stress, Mom's suicidal gay brother Frank (Steve Carell), Dad's father (Alan Arkin) and Olive's non-speaking, fuck-the-world brother Dwayne (Paul Dano)--all hop in the beat-up minibus and drive to Redondo for a road trip of epic proportions!

At my standing-room only freebie last night, everyone howled literally from start to finish.  The best comedic bits are so great, but the fact that there are so many make this one of the better comedies in quite some time.  Lots of laughter cascades, as well...certainly, the last 15 minutes of the movie might be the best, but I can't tell you how many times people were applauding during the film, the shit was so funny.  And because I had heard from many others how good the film was, I was surprised "Little Miss Sunshine" delivered on so many levels.  The hype almost can't match how good the flick is.

There are many laugh highlights (I'm waffling between Grandpa's advice to Dwayne--"Don't just fuck one girl, fuck a LOT of women"--or the first time the family has to run to jump into the suddenly-stalled minibus, or the delivery of bad news by a doctor followed by "LINDA!!", or the CHiPs stop with the magazines or...jeez, there might be a dozen such moments), but the bits of drama around many moments in the film are well handled by music video/commercial directors Jonathan Dayton and Valeris Faris.  It helps to have a cast as strong as this one; I still think that Dano's work (as the mute Nietzsche follower) might be the best of the bunch here, but everyone is great from start to finish.

And, we even get a little bit of horror thrown in--the actual beauty pageant is a spectacle of horrific proportions, the idea (certainly copied from something in real life) that 6- and 7-year-olds would have a contest that includes a swimsuit competition, a talent contest and little kids posing in big hair and makeup for the cameras scared everyone in the room during my showing, which is what makes the Olive inclusion so damned funny.  Sure, people will compare her talent performance to the hilarious end sequence from "Napoleon Dynamite", but this update takes a little song-and-dance and injects it with an energy that you have to see to believe.  Has Rick James's "Superfreak" ever been so funny?

Many of you have already seen this one, but if you haven't, catch "Little Miss Sunshine" stat!  We may have a new #1 for the year...

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09