Little Miss Sunshine [DVD]
Director : s Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Screenplay : Michael Arndt
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Abigail Breslin (Olive), Greg Kinnear (Richard), Paul Dano (Dwayne), Alan Arkin (Grandpa), Toni Collette (Sheryl), Steve Carell (Frank), Bryan Cranston (Stan Grossman), Beth Grant (Pageant Official Jenkins), Jill Talley (Cindy), Brenda Canela (Diner Waitress), Julio Oscar Mechoso (Mechanic)
For every good moment in Little Miss Sunshine, which made good on all its festival-induced pre-release hype by becoming last summer's breakout indie hit and scoring crucial Oscar nods, there are two that are forced, contrived, or overly cute. First-time directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, working from a first-time script by Michael Arndt, have tried to make the ultimate dysfunctional family-cum-road trip dramedy, but they focus too much on the quirks and not enough on the characters. They're so busy making everyone uniquely troubled that they never get beneath their surface. It's sometimes funny and frequently enjoyable, but also irritatingly trite.
The story is about the Hoover clan's 800-mile trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Redondo Beach, California. Seven-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin), the family's youngest member and only remaining innocent, has just found out that the regional winner of the national Little Miss Sunshine pageant has had to drop out (something to do with diet pills), thus she is now the regional winner and needs to be in Redondo Beach in two days. For various reasons, the rest of the family all needs to tag along, and they each bring along his or her problems. What are all the problems? Let's run down the list:
Grandpa (Oscar-winning Alan Arkin), who has been responsible for teaching Olive her dance moves for the pageant, snorts heroin, loves pornography (the really dirty kind, not the airbrushed garbage), and has a mouth like a sailor. Older brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) is a moody, obsessive teen who has taken a vow of silence, hates everyone, and buries his nose in Nietzsche at any given opportunity. Uncle Frank (Steve Carrell) is a gay Proust scholar who has just been brought home from the hospital after trying to slash his wrists because the grad student with whom he fell in love left him for another Proust scholar. Dad (Greg Kinnear) is an overly ambitious, wanna-be self-help guru who is constantly inflicting his cheesy 9-step "Refuse to Lose" process on his family. Mom (Toni Collette) is actually fairly normal, although she is stressed to within an inch of her life trying to keep everyone in the family happy.
So, pile all these self-possessed neurotics into a yellow VW bus (one that has to be pushed everywhere because the clutch is shot and therefore must start in third gear, which is admittedly a great running motif), and you have the perfect recipe for indie-clever hilarity. The overriding idea is redemption, of course, with each member of the Hoover clan coming to grips with his or her place in life via the endurance test of a lengthy cross-country drive, one punctuated by cheap motels, inept hospital service, and one police officer whose reason for letting the family go and not noticing what is surely a felony is beyond ridiculous (as is Frank's convenient run-in with his lost love at a convenience store). There are some good moments scattered throughout, though, and the eventual dismantling of the Little Miss Sunshine pageant and the gross obsession with perfection it reflects is quite hilarious, if a bit hypocritical.
For all its "independent" status, though, Little Miss Sunshine is really no different from high-concept Hollywood summer blockbusters except that its concept revolves around character tics rather than how to best blow things up. It still has the same distinct smell of something that has been cooked too long, boiled down into something neat, palatable, and pleasing. It's no wonder it was such an audience-pleaser at the Sundance Film Festival and got so many Oscar nods: It delivers exactly what you'd expect and little more.
|Little Miss Sunshine DVD|
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 / 1.33:1|
|Subtitles||English, Spanish, French|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox|
|Release Date||February 22, 2007|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Little Miss Sunshine's anamorphic widescreen transfer is pristine--sharp and well-detailed, with excellent colors. The yellow VW bus is particularly vibrant and offsets nicely with some of the film's more purposefully mellow use of color. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is also very good. Most of the dialogue-heavy sound is understandably maintained in the front soundstage, but the surrounds are incorporated nicely whenever there is music on the soundtrack (which is quite frequently).|
|There are two audio commentaries available on the disc. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris contribute one, and they also appear on a second commentary by writer Michael Arndt. As first-time filmmakers, they are quite open about the filmmaking process and their approach to the material, as well as the pressures they faced to cut certain scenes and make the film as commercial as possible. Ironically, the fact that the film took four years to make worked in their favor because they originally found Abigail Breslin when she was too young, and by the time production finally commenced, she was the right age. Dayton and Faris also contribute commentary to four alternate endings, which can be watched back-to-back or separately (together they comprise about five minutes). Lastly, there is a music video for "Till the End of Time" performed by DeVotchka and a promo for the film's soundtrack.|
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