Who's in It:
Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin
The Basics: A screwed-up family that includes a failed motivational speaker, his angry wife, the wife's suicidal Proust scholar brother, a mute son and a drug-addicted grandfather make a cross-country trip in a busted-up VW van so that the youngest child can compete in a child beauty pageant, even though she's not remotely JonBenét-ish.
What's the Deal? This is the coolest, smartest, funniest movie I've seen so far this year. I suffered through other people telling me this and building it up for me until I knew it couldn't compete with its own hype. In fact, I was distrustful because I've already seen enough pageant parody to last me a lifetime. But they found a new way, one that's fresh and shocking and sweet, all at the same time.
What It's Really About: How American culture has turned into a nonstop, pain-in-the-butt grasp for success, how it's not enough to be normal and happy. You have to be No. 1 at whatever you do, or you've failed. You loser.
Not Taking the WB (or CW, Whatever They're Calling It Now) Route to Fame: Indie film fans will wonder where they've seen the bummed-out, silent teen son before. His name is Paul Dano, and he played the depressed kid in L.I.E., the one who develops a close friendship with the neighborhood pedophile.
Hey, Awards Jerks? The various academies of giving out statues and prizes should remember this movie when that time rolls around (I realize the irony in stating that this movie, a movie about not winning, should win Oscars). They won't, of course, because it's a comedy and because they like nominating crud like Memoirs of a Geisha. But still