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In the words of the great poets: “Jaw” is not about a shark, and “Little Miss Sunshine” is not about the Little Miss Sunshine contest. If it would, it would be ghastly – but it is about hell, or about the specific pit of hell that the American family can be (or any other family, I suppose). Everything is there: the overambitious father who might be a loser despite trying to sell a motivational programme for winners, the overwhelmed mother who tries to be more protective of everybody than is good for either them or her, the coke- and heroin-snorting grandpart pa who might be the good spirit of the family, but in a devilish kind of way, the Nietzsche-reading son who took a vowe of silence because he hates everybody too much to talk with them, and the little daughter of the family, who has developed a taste for talent and beauty pageants, and is working hard with grandpa on the moves, which is surprising until … well, until it is not.

It is a nightmare family, no doubt, and maybe not the best environment for a suicidal uncle to be thrown into, but when he shows up this triggers a road trip to California that will clarify some things about life, universe and everything.

Carried by splendid actors (especially Paul Dano, Steve Carrell and Alan Arkin), this is some cruel bit of film making. While it is funny, it exposes many aspects of modern life in its ludicrousness, and is actually without mercy in confirming the worst preconceptions about family life. And then, without negating those dark sides, it also shows uplifting moments, or moments of utter hilarity, where you really want to be Part of this very family, despite all their crazy bouts and hopeless future.

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