The dysfunctional-family drama Little Miss Sunshine has a central visual metaphor that’s so lovely and so inspired that it single-handedly elevates the movie above its forced quirkiness and Sundance mannerisms. The picture follows a down-on-its-luck family as they pile into an old Volkswagen bus to bring the awkward 7-year-old daughter (Abigal Breslin) to a beauty pageant for which she’s wholly inappropriate. Along the way, the bus’ gears go bad, so that the only way for them to start the vehicle is for everyone to get out, give a running push and then jump back in just when they’ve reached cruising speed. As you might have guessed, this is another independent, feel-good flick in which a broken family must learn to love each other if they ever want to get anywhere. Among the members is a suicidal uncle (Steve Carell, ably dipping his toe into dramatic waters), a willfully silent teen brother (Paul Dano) and a crude, angry grandfather (Alan Arkin). The dad (Greg Kinnear) is a failed motivational speaker, while the mom (Toni Collette) does her best to keep everyone in the same room for more than five minutes at a time.
Featuring a character named Gemma Chatterjee