Greg Kinnear, right, in Little Miss Sunshine.

Little Miss Sunshine

Stars: Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette

Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Rating: 14A

** (out of five)

it’s the strangest thing: I should have loved Little Miss Sunshine. It’s attractively shot, nicely cut, and cast with actors of whom I am very, very fond. But I could barely stand to sit through it.

The movie is a comedy about a dysfunctional family on a road trip, driving across America in a dilapidated VW van so their youngest can compete in a beauty pageant.

The problem is Michael Arendt’s lazy screenplay, which gives every character precisely one defining quirk that’s supposed to serve as a springboard to hilarity over the course of the picture. Grandpa (Alan Arkin) snorts heroin and likes porn. Dad (Greg Kinnear) has written a self-improvement book and won’t stop quoting himself. Mom (Toni Collette) is tortured by the pressure of keeping everything together. Son Dwayne (Paul Dano) has taken a vow of silence. Daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) is obsessed with being crowned Little Miss Sunshine.

They’re not all one-note characters; Mom’s brother Frank (Steve Carell) is both suicidally depressed and a failed Proust scholar, which passes for complexity in this film.

To be fair, Carell gives a marvellous performance; either Arendt spent extra time developing Frank, or Carell is even more talented an actor than we’ve ever suspected.

Carell, Arkin, Kinnear and Collette ... all of these people are marvellous actors, and have at one point or another been the sole reason to see a movie. But here, they’re upstaged by a stuck car horn. How does that happen?

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