Sunday, August 27, 2006


Much more than the indie-movie du jour. An intelligent, oddly moving little comedy. The set up isn't particularly promising: a little girl and her oddball family drive interstate to get to a low-level beauty pageant. But an intelligent script, good direction and a really good cast (remember when movies had those?) lift the rather cliched premise off the ground.

The father (Greg Kinnear) is vainly trying to re-invent himself as a self-help guru: we hear a lot about his 9-Step program to turn losers into winners. His philosophy (and lack of success marketing it) is wearing out his wife (Toni Collette). There is a son (I can't think of his name) who has taken a vow of silence until he can become a fighter pilot, and who is often shown reading Nietzche. Rounding out the family circle are a randy, drug-snorting grandfather (Alan Arkin) and the wife's brother (Steve Carrell) a gay man recovering from a suicide attempt, who tends to remind people that he is the #1 Proust scholar in the country. Little Olive seems to have come from some other planet, a dear little girl who manages to be appealing and touching and funny without ever once crossing the line into cliche. She'd convert W.C. Fields.

There's a lot of good fun in the film, largely the pleasure of watching good actors go to town on good parts, creating convincing family tensions and annoyances and then subverting them with equally convincing moments of real family affection. I'll admit to getting a lot of pleasure out of Steve Carell's slow burns and Bengal tiger-freezing glares, but he's an actor I get a lot of pleasure out of anyway. I think there are a couple of mis-steps in the screenplay and the direction; one unexpected side-trip into black comedy brings the film to something of a halt.

Don't worry about it. See the movie.

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