This indie film is getting a lot of buzz, and it was actually playing at my regular local multiplex, where the theater was packed (with mostly middle-aged or older couples, it seemed to me). Indie films are almost invariably quirky, and that's really the only appropriate word to describe Little Miss Sunshine. The title refers to a beauty pageant for little girls that the daughter of the family, Olive, is invited to compete in. The quirkiness begins here because Olive isn't really your average pageant girl. Her family is pretty outrageous: a foul-mouthed and heroin-snorting but loving grandfather; a sullen teenaged brother, Dwayne, who has taken a vow of silence until he can go to flight school for the Air Force; an uncle who has just tried to commit suicide; a father who is trying to sell his self-help program for being a winner; and a mother who's just trying to hold it all together. They live in Albuquerque, but the pageant is in Calfornia, and due to prevailing circumstances, the entire family packs up on a road trip in an old but spacious VW bus.
Both hilarity and tragedy ensue on this trip, and while it's the type of stuff that only happens in indie movies, it's all strangely kind of believable. The happy and the sad are mixed expertly and it's a lot like real life, just...quirkier. I liked the characters and actors quite a bit. Olive is cute but not overly precocious. Steve Carrell takes on a serious role and is surprisingly good not being silly (I think the facial hair helped). The grandfather is a hoot and Dwayne is antisocial and sullen but not psychotic. It's funny, he doesn't have an expressive face at all but his silent performance is actually quite good. His angry head shake made me crack up.
The pageant itself is quirky to the extreme, but the outcome is perfectly matched to the tone of the movie. Overall, a good time. Go see it!