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</script></div>{/googleAds}Not since the Tenenbaum family graced us with its unique brand of wacky but loveable familial dysfunction have we had such fun watching it play out on the big screen. And not since National Lampoon's Vacation has a road comedy been this funny ... or this dark. With its charm, wit, and disarming allure, it's easy to see why Little Miss Sunshine was the crowd pleaser at this year's Sundance Film Festival where it played to standing ovations and was eventually snapped up for $10.5 million by Fox Searchlight Pictures. It's not only the best comedy of 2006, it's one the best films of the year, period.

The film features the directorial debut of the husband/wife team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris who cut their teeth on TV commercials and Smashing Pumpkins videos. Here they take on a brilliant script by Michael Arndt and mold a beautiful celebration of the American family that touches on such heady topics as family values, acceptance, and self-fulfillment without making the subject matter or characters seem cold or unapproachable. In fact, this is where Dayton and Faris succeed. It's easy to make quirky characters with whacky habits and bizarre eccentricities, but the real challenge comes in making the audience care (see The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou to see how it's not done). And that's where Dayton and Faris excel with Little Miss Sunshine.

The Hoovers are a seemingly misfit gaggle of ne'er-do-wells that, upon further examination, paints a fairly accurate portrait of the average American family. Sure, each one is chronically eccentric, but aren't we all? Dad Richard (Greg Kinear) is a failed motivational speaker attempting to land a book deal. Grandpa (Alan Arkin) is a porn-freak with a mile-long heroin habit. Son Dwayne (Paul Dano) is nine months into a vow of silence and speaks only via a pencil and notebook. Mom Sheryl (Toni Collette) is the most stable of the bunch, yet always seems precariously perched on the ledge of a nervous breakdown. Sheryl's brother Frank (Steve Carrell) is a fallen-from-grace Proust scholar whose suicide attempt failed when his male lover left him. Then there's Olive (Abigail Breslin). She's a precocious little tart who spends her time watching beauty pageant videos in hopes of one day being able to mimic their reactions on the winning stage. The problem is she doesn't bear the physical features of a beauty pageant contestant. But that doesn't stop her from stepping in as the regional winner of the "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant when the actual winner was disqualified due to a diet pill scandal.

As the Hoover's head to California so Olive can compete in the next level of the beauty pageant, the film switches gears and becomes a road picture. The family piles into a dilapidated VW bus with a bad clutch, a defective horn and a disposition as rotten as any of the human characters. The van itself becomes a major character that antagonizes the human relationships with its cramped confines and cantankerous ways.

The group muddles across the desert and through a series of unfortunate and progressively darker events. But its Olive's cheery spirit and drive to become "Little Miss Sunshine" that pulls the clan together. Breslin steals the show with her unbridled enthusiasm and belief in herself that makes us all feel a little less worried about our own real-life problems. How can I be upset that I lost my car keys today after seeing what Olive willingly goes up against in the closing beauty pageant scene? I challenge you to not fall in love with this little girl. Her performance will hit that little corner of your heart where you bury your vulnerabilities. Keep an eye on her. She's destined for stardom!

Speaking of the beauty pageant scene. This is one of the creepiest endings to a film I've seen in a long while ... and I'm a horror film fan! While I must admit I've heard about what goes down at these events, I was not prepared for the actual spray-painted prepubescent beauty contestants and overzealous stage moms. But, without question it was a fitting closure for a story about our competitive natures and what we'll do to succeed.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen 2.35:1

Subtitles: English; Spanish; French.

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; alternate endings; trailers; audio commentary; music video.

* Commentary tracks - 2 feature length commentary tracks
o With co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
o With screenwriter Michael Arndt, Dayton and Faris
* Alternate Endings - 4 alternate endings
* Music Video - featuring DeVotchKa's "Till the End of Time"
* Trailers - Thank You For Smoking, Sideways, Garden State, The Illusionist

Number of discs: - 1 disc set with Keepcase Packaging