Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

(On DVD, February 2007) “Independent comedies” are hit-and-miss affairs. Though their “independent” nature ensures that they’ll be quirkier than conventional studio fare, that same quirkiness either works to viewer’s sensibilities or doesn’t. In this case, Little Miss Sunshine doesn’t look all that funny for a long time. Suicidal Proust expert? Foul-mouthed grandpa? Loser-writer trying to get a publishing contract? Not exactly the stuff laughs are made of. It doesn’t get any better as the film becomes a road trip film, as it plays as a humiliation comedy, as characters die and others are pushed even further in depression. But something strange happens near the end of the film, as viewers finally click to its peculiar view of the world and as the dramatic arcs of the characters reach a meaningful conclusion: Little Miss Sunshine becomes, well, a ray of sunshine. The end dance number is terrific: the film earns its comedic release far more than in a film where nothing is risked or loss. A surprise finish for a film that takes its time to put all the pieces together.

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