Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 2006. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Big Beach Films, Bona Fide Productions, Deep River Productions, Third Gear Productions. Screenplay by Michael Arndt. Cinematography by Tim Suhrstedt. Produced by Albert Berger, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Ron Yerxa. Music by Mychael Danna, DeVotchKa. Production Design by Kalina Ivanov. Costume Design by Nancy Steiner. Film Editing by Pamela Martin. Academy Awards 2006. Golden Globe Awards 2006. Gotham Awards 2006. Independent Spirit Awards 2006.
There’s nothing but surprises to be enjoyed from this wonderful comedy. Young Abigail Breslin is thrilled when she finds out that an opening in a children’s beauty pageant has come up and allowed her charmingly dorky, big-spectacled, hair-banded self to enter. The entire family, beset by the arrival of their suicidal university professor uncle (a brilliant Steve Carell) and their dad’s (Greg Kinnear) impending unemployment, decide that the best thing to keep this unit alive is to pack everyone into their very run-down Volkswagon bus and head to California for the pageant. Breslin and trash-mouthed grandfather Alan Arkin practice her routine in secret while exasperated mom Toni Collette has to deal with her brother’s and husband’s antics as well as the fact that her depressed teenaged son (Paul Dano) refuses to speak. Somehow this mess of highly original characters doesn’t feel like an overdrawn acting exercise. The brilliant script and incredibly smooth direction by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris make for a journey that is nothing but laughs and a few poignantly perfect tender moments as well, and the performances are all outstanding.