The word 'quirky' is overused, but Little Miss Sunshine deserves the tag. As with Napoleon Dynamite, the quirkiness in this film comes from honest characters, not desperate-to-be-different caricatures in such films as Garden State.
To the extent that Little Miss Sunshine works, and you probably gather that its schematic cartoonishness didn't always work for me, it is because directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris genuinely like these people.
Little Miss Sunshine isn't the kind of movie you want to beat up on: It's sweet-tempered at its core, and even when it's trying too hard to reinforce its own quirks, the charms of its actors filter through effortlessly.
This is a feel-good movie that is not dependent on gags or stupid gimmicks, but on intelligently observed, slightly cockeyed people and their interactions. It is positive and uplifting, and a grand time is had by all.
The casting is flawless. Kinnear has never been better suited to a role; Richard's gradual surrender of his ego is sweet and totally convincing. Arkin has the best lines, and delivers them with the timing of a vaudeville pro.
Mining humor from subjects like suicide, drug abuse and bad parenting, the picture isn't going to win any congeniality prizes, but it's amusingly bitter. Consider it summer fun for pessimists and misanthropes.
Little Miss Sunshine has not a hint of exploitation about it, and it's sentimental only in the best sense of the word. Like its heroine Olive Hoover, it wears its heart on its sleeve and assumes the best about everyone.
A quietly antic dysfunctional family road trip comedy that shoots down the all-American culture of the winner and offers sweet redemption for losers -- or at least the ordinary folks often branded as such.