Ho hum, I’m not sure what I expected from this indie comedy. Actually, is that what it is? Probably not. More like a dramedy (ugh!). These films usually have quite a high opinion of themselves, and the inevitable critical acclaim is a red flag to me. Not that I’m trying to be contrary, I just think what a critic is looking for and what I’m looking for are two different things. Escapism is one of my requirements, and I suppose it delivered on that front.
Curiously it seems to be pitched as Steve Carrell’s new film, despite him being little more than the supporting antagonist. Despite it’s notable cast – the type that drift to these sort of films like moths to flames, including Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph – the bulk of the film is carried by puffy-faced Charlie Brown character Duncan, played by Liam James. It’s a bit shitty that it’s basically his film, but he’s listed way, way down the cast roster.
Anyway, it follows a particularly shitty summer for Duncan, spent with his recently-divorced mother Pam (Collette), massive douchebag boyfriend Trent (Carrell), his daughter, their obnoxious but well-meaning neighbour Betty (Janney) and her family. People are coming to terms with things, emotional strains in the group etc. The situation is illustrated with all the subtlety of a paintball gun. We are instructed that Trent is bad, Duncan is sad, and Pam is weak.
I feel like no time was wasted here, and the characters were just too stark and 1-dimensional. Duncan was just SO introverted to the point of being unrelatable (even to a sad-sack like me), and Trent was toxically douchey that you couldn’t imagine how Pam didn’t see it. I feel like the explanations of her choices (particularly at the end) were glossed over.
Fortunately before Duncan and I slit our wrists, the real warmth of the film comes out in the water-park. He befriends park manager Owen (Rockwell) and his staff of irregulars and gets the acceptance and support he needs. I guess it was good to get into Duncan’s head, the contrast between the free feeling of the park and the claustrophobic and poisonous atmosphere of the holiday home came easily.
The pay-off at the end is a bit of a stumble, and the conclusion left pointedly open-ended, but this is an improvement on the spoon-feeding at the start. It was a reasonable film, a bit slow to start and a bit unbelievable. The down moments are almost crushingly awkward to watch, and sank what might have otherwise been a quite light and uplifting film. I’d say you should watch it if you have any inclination, but I don’t see it making such a mark as “Little Miss Sunshine”.