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Dazzling 'Sunshine'


Little Miss Sunshine gives the term "crowd-pleaser" an upgrade. This picture earns every laugh it gets with actual emotion. It's about the way families live now, sutured together from more than one marriage, struggling for stability when each member has vastly different needs. The acting, the direction and the writing bring it the warmth as well as the madness of a crazy quilt. Though the presence of master farceurs Steve Carell and Greg Kinnear makes audiences want to start laughing once the title appears, the movie provides a delicate balance between pathos and humor, then turns into a delicious, daring farce about the human comedy.

Reviewed in some publications as a veiled attack on American competitiveness, the movie features a cast of characters in which nearly everyone wants to be No. 1 at something. But what makes Little Miss Sunshine such a blast is how open-minded and openhearted it is about characters obsessed with winning. Living in an Albuquerque, N.M., neighborhood that embodies Suburban Sprawl, U.S.A., Richard Hoover (Kinnear) seeks his big break as the lead spokesman and packager of his own nine-step system for success. His wife, Sheryl (Toni Collette), on her second marriage, hopes to establish domestic tranquillity, despite intervening catastrophes - such as the suicide attempt of her brother Frank (Carell), our country's leading Proust scholar. He's near-terminally depressed over losing his gay lover to America's second-best Proust scholar, who has only worsened Frank's outlook by earning a MacArthur "genius" grant.

Little Miss Sunshine (Fox Searchlight) Starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Rated R. Time 101 minutes.

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