This low budget little film received a standing ovation after it was screened at the Sun Dance Film Festival.  After seeing it, I can understand why this happened.  It's a refreshing little film.  No big stars, no huge special effects, no trite script and, to top it off, it's an honest-to-goodness-satire.  What does it satirize?  Those little "beauty contests" which feature pubescent girls dressed in sexy clothes and lathered in make-up.  Is there something wrong with this kind of an event? 

Well there is nothing wrong with this film.  Like "Prairie Home Companion," it's a breath of fresh air.  They don't make many movies like this any more.  A screwball dysfunctional family decides to enter their 7 year old daughter in a kiddy beauty/talent contest.  They have to travel from New Mexico to California in a broken-down old van that won't start unless it is pushed and has a horn that blares intermittently for no reason.  Grandpa, played by the irrepressible Alan Arkin, has been kicked out of his Nursing Home for snorting cocaine.  He is the one who is teaching little Olive (Abigail Breslin) how to perfect her act for the contest.  Her brother, Dwayne, is so depressed he has taken a vow of silence and doesn't speak.  The father, Greg Kinnear, is a failed motivational speaker.  Kinnear's brother, played by Steve Carrell, is the number one Proust scholar in America. He has just attempted suicide because his male lover left him for the number two Proust scholar. Toni Collette is the long suffering Mom who doesn't quite know how to handle her family.

With a cast like this, how can you go wrong? Somehow this family makes it to California.  Unfortunately Grandpa died along the way.  However they don't have time to dispose of the body so they just take him along.  (A la Imogene Coca in "National Lampoon's Vacation.") The climactic moment when little Olive gets to compete with a dazzling array of overly talented little girls dressed in Jon Benet Ramsey type costumes is somewhat of a surprise.

This is a film which proves the old adage that "less is more."  You don't need big money, spectacular sets, the latest digital effects, the biggest stars...all you need is a good script and a nice ensemble of excellent actors.






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