This is the kind of American independent comedy-drama that restores our faith in the cinema, combining a talented cast, witty direction and a razor-sharp script to reboot the coming-of-age genre. It's an original approach that completely wins us over; even the film's slightly too-wacky touches are genuinely hilarious. And it's all grounded in realistic characters we can identify with, especially when they're in amusingly awkward situations.
The story centres on Joe (Robinson), a teen who is fed up with the way his widowed father Frank (Offerman) takes out his grief on anyone at hand. Joe's sister (Brie) has already escaped, moving in with her goofy boyfriend (Cordero), and now that school has let out for the summer, Joe decides to build a bolt-hole in the woods. He finds a collaborator in his best pal Patrick (Basso), whose inane parents (Mullally and Jackson) are so annoying that he has broken out in hives. Then Biaggio (Arias), a strange kid no one really knows, joins them to build a secret cabin where no one can find them. And they love this independent lifestyle so much that they never want summer to end.
Along the way, the film takes a wonderfully honest look at the horrors of adolescence. Joe's and Patrick's parents always say the most embarrassing things imaginable, so getting away from them is like a blast of freedom. And there's a very strong female lead in Kelly (Moriarty), the girl Joe fantasises about even though she has eyes for other boys. Robinson and Basso are excellent in the lead roles, playing characters we can easily identify with and root for. Arias is hilarious as the rather ridiculous Biaggio, making the most of a role that's perhaps the film's only false note: he's just too nutty to be believable.
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With a low budget but a lot of imagination and talent, director Trevorrow and writer Connolly create a deceptively simple comedy that's one of the most entertaining films of the year. It's so cleverly written that every moment of the film is hugely engaging, and it's so perfectly played by its cast that we can't help but fall for the likeable, flawed characters.
Set in Washington state, the story centres on Darius (Plaza), a sardonic Seattle magazine intern whose life derailed when she was 14, after her mother's death. So her interest is piqued when she hears about a classified ad asking for an assistant on a time travel mission ("Bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed"). She accompanies arrogant journalist Jeff (Johnson) and fellow intern Arnau (Soni) to a seaside town to write up the story for the magazine, but once they track down the ad's author Kenneth (Duplass), nothing goes as expected.
Each of these three magazine reporters has a full-bodied story, expertly set within the larger investigation of whether Kenneth is nuts or not. All of these characters are caught between their past and the present, exploring who they once were, who they are and who they want to be, which makes them easy to identify with even as they do some amusingly silly things. And the filmmakers cleverly refuse to play into our expectations, keeping us guessing about where the movie is heading. So each scene bristles with possibility, and each twist and turn of the plot and side-plots is both thrilling and hilarious.
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Burt and Verona (Krasinski and Rudolph) are a sparky couple looking forward to the birth of their first child. But when Burt's nutty parents (O'Hara and Daniels) announce that they're suddenly moving to Belgium, Burt and Verona realise that nothing is holding them in Colorado. So they hit the road, visiting friends and siblings in Arizona, Wisconsin, Montreal and Miami. In each place, they see things they want for their own family home, but everyone they visit is full of surprises.
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Rose (Adams) is a single mother struggling to make ends meet as a cleaner.
She's dating a married man (Zahn), and knows she shouldn't. And she wants to put her son Oscar (Spevack) into a better school but needs money for that. So she launches her own crime-scene clean-up business, drafting her slacker sister Norah (Blunt) to work with her. Meanwhile, their father (Arkin) tries to make some cash through a series of get-rich-quick schemes, drafting Oscar as his partner.
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It is also the screenwriting debut of the wildly post-modern novelist Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, novelist and co-founder of literary zine The Believer. Being the recent parents of two children, there's certainly a self-reflexive quality to their script, which tells of the travels of a pair of expecting parents attempting to find a proper home for their awaited progeny.
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But there is another lost soul at the old folks home, ten-year-old Edward (Bill Milner), angry at having to give up his room to the dying tenants. His Mum (Anne-Marie Duff) and Dad (David Morrissey) run the facility out of their home in an English seaside town. The recent resident of Edward's room has just died and Clarence has now arrived to take the dead man's place. Edward is obsessed with death and ghosts. When asked why he is so morbid, Edward shouts back, "Because I live here!"
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Adams, especially, commands attention as she dials down her natural sunniness, her chirpy voice slightly deflated and her smiles a little more forced. Rose has a shabby apartment, an eight-year-old son, and a job with a maid service to pay for both. She also has motel-room trysts with a local cop (Steve Zahn), who suggests, offhand, that she might parlay her maid skills into a crime-scene clean-up business. In need of money to send her son to private school, Rose seizes on the idea, and drags Norah along with her.
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And now, here's Little Miss Sunshine. You're not quite sure what you're in for during the Sundance-touting trailer as you see snippets of a family dinner. You know they are going to be quirky, based on their remarks and the quick cuts. You also know the acting will be dependable because of the stellar cast, including Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, and Alan Arkin. Plus, it's got a cute girl with glasses you know you're going to cheer on because the title is based on her.
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We may never know the truth about Charlie. Demme fills his European vacation with endless lies fed to us by self-serving criminals. The result circles endlessly around a thin mystery that the director punches up with inspired visual tricks, though logic would have been preferred.
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