Little Miss Sunshine
A cringing good time is had by all as a family rides/pushes and argues its way from Albuquerque, N.M., to Los Angeles to enter 7-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) in a beauty pageant. Grandpa (Alan Arkin) seems the sanest adult, advising grandson Dwayne (Paul Dano) to "fuck a lot of women" and not to snort heroin until he gets old: "At you your age you're crazy to do it; at my age you're crazy not to do it." Though Michael Arndt's script is over the top, every actor hits the subtlest marks, turning stock characters into whole people--in Dano's case without speaking a word for the movie's first 80 minutes. Steve Carell is a suicidal Proust scholar who meets his former lover while buying porn rags for Grandpa. Greg Kinnear is father Frank, whose self-help book can't find a publisher. Toni Collette as Sheryl is her usual striving mom under pressure. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, whose previous work mostly consists of music videos, waste no shots of their fine ensemble, wringing every acid drop of angst, misery, and humiliation from them. The result is the funniest, and truest, meditation on America's incurable winner-take-all spirit to come along in ages.