random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Friday, January 5, 2007

DVD REVIEW: Little Miss Sunshine (2006) ***

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

R (for language, some sex and drug content.)
1 hr. 41 min.
written by: Michael Arndt
produced by: Albert Berger, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, & Ron Yerxa
directed by: Jonathon Ayton & Valerie Faris

Here's a great family film that I wouldn't recommend for the whole family. It's definitely for the adults (mature or not) in the family. It's a fractured and fractious comedy, spiked with dark laughs and genuine affection for its dysfunctional characters. Arndt's subtly lacerating screenplay takes stock clichés and infuses them with quirks that approach reality, albeit an extremely heightened sense of reality; you watch the movie and see a splintered, spirited family unit grow closer and approach something resembling understanding. To lay out the twists and turns of Little Miss Sunshine would rob those coming to the film fresh.

The Hoover family takes a road trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, California, to fulfill the deepest wish of 7-year-old Olive (Abigail Bresson), an ordinary little girl with big dreams. Her father, Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a manic go-getter striving to sell his motivational nine-step technique to becoming a winner. Truth is, he's an annoying loser who insecurely leans on self-help to help others. Ironic. Her father, Sheryl (Toni Colette) has her hands full with her suicidal brother and Proust scholar Frank (Steve Carell) and Richard's caustic, drugged out, potty-mouthed dad (Alan Arkin). Then there's brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) is going on nine months as a mute, studying the nihilistic works of Nietzsche.

When Olive wins a spot in the prestigious Little Miss Sunshine pageant in, the family pile into a past-its-prime Volkswagen van and head out towards the promise of a glittering future in California. What's great about the movie is that it doesn't unfold in an entirely predictable manner, often zigging where you might think it would zag – lining scenes with a patently absurd vibe, music video vets turned feature film directors Dayton and Faris swipe a few pages from the Woody Allen/Wes Anderson playbook, electing to play gags straight ahead and letting the laughs evolve naturally. As I said, I'm not gonna get into all the various dramedic situations the family gets in due to their tensions and personalities. We all know the myriad difficulties that can arise during a road trip. The finale of the film presents a scathingly satirical depiction of child beauty pageants, in which elementary school girls model swimsuits and strut onstage to dance music. It's great to finally see Olive demonstrate to her family and the audience what she has learned from her grandfather's private dance routine rehearsals. It's Olive and this routine that ultimately brings this formerly dysfunctional family together.

In retrospect (I guess all reviews are) I almost see this movie as a live-action version of "The Simpsons". It has the dysfunctional family that underneath it all really mean well. The father is a bumbling, lovable idiot (like Homer), the mother is doing everything she can to keep the family together (Marge), Arkin plays his Grandpa character in a cross-between Moe & Grandpa Simpson, while Dwayne is an amalgam of Bart and Nelson. Haw ha! Of course, lil Olive is akin to Lisa Simpson in her sunny disposition and resilient nature. Just an observation.

The directors have assembled a cast brimming with impeccable comic timing; Kinnear, Collette, Carell, Breslin, Dano and Arkin take Arndt's screenplay and give it a loose, improvised feel – if the Academy weren't so predictably out of touch, I'd say that Little Miss Sunshine might be due a raft of trophies come Oscar time....but what do I know?

So few films truly worth sitting through have made their way into our multiplexes in 2006 that when a work like Little Miss Sunshine comes along, you can't recommend it strongly enough. It's a rib-tickling ray of light beamed from Hollywood, of all places, reminding you that, yes, in fact it is possible to be both moved and amused, with nary a toliet joke or product placement in sight.

Special Features:

Unfortunately, these features are a tad scant. They might have some thinking "double dip," (referring to they way studios have come out with "special additions" and "ultimate addictions") and indeed, as awards season begins to heat up, it's entirely possible that Fox could re-visit this title with a tricked-out special edition in six months, after the trophies have been handed out.

Nevertheless, what's included is worth at least a cursory spin: a pair of commentary tracks -- a "somewhat reluctant" one with co-directors Dayton and Faris and another equally chatty one with screenwriter Arndt, Dayton and Faris -- are here, along with four alternate endings, playable together for an aggregate of five minutes and all sporting directors' commentary with a music video for DeVotchKa's "Till the End of Time" completing the disc.

The Skinny:

  • Originally written as an East Coast roadtrip movie from Maryland to Florida, it was shifted to a journey from New Mexico to California due to shooting issues.
  • The role of the suicidal uncle was originally written for Bill Murray, the studios wanted Robin Williams, but eventually went for Steve Carell. Thanks you!
  • Five identical Volkswagen Type 2s were used during filming.
  • The movie was shot in sequence.
  • The script was purchased from first time screenwriter Michael Arndt for $250,000.
  • No filming was done in New Mexico; the Albuquerque scenes were actually shot in southern California. This explains why the family eats take-out chicken in a bucket from Dinah's Family Restaurant, located in Los Angeles.
  • In another dining scene, the family looks at menus from Pann's, a well-known family restaurant not far from Los Angeles International Airport. However, the scene actually was shot in another restaurant.
  • The scenes that took place in Redondo Beach, California were actually filmed in Ventura, California. There are no freeways that lead to the beach.
  • Many of the freeway scenes were filmed on California State Route 14.
  • The scene in the gas station was filmed in the Chevron station on Lyons Road in Santa Clarita, California.
  • Although known to Comedy Central viewers for many years as a correspondent on the high-rated satirical news program The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Steve Carell, at the time he was cast for Little Miss Sunshine, was a relative unknown in Hollywood. According to an article in Entertainment Weekly, the producers of the film worried that he wasn't a big enough star and didn't have much acting experience. However, between the time the film was shot in the summer of 2005 and its release in the summer of 2006, Carell became a huge success as the star of the high-grossing film "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" in August 2005 and the leading character of the popular NBC Emmy-winning television series "The Office", which premiered in March 2005 and for which Carell won a Golden Globe in 2006 for best lead actor in a comedy television series. In the span of just one year, Carell had become such a star that the producers had gone from protesting his casting to tapping him to do prominent promotion for the film.
  • All the girls acting as participants in the beauty pageant, except Abigail Breslin, were veterans of real beauty pageants. They looked the same and performed the same acts as they had in their real-life pageants. Scary!
  • Greg Kinnear and Paul Dano also star in the 2006 movie adaptation of Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation".
  • On July 25, 2006 Fox Searchlight Pictures invited VW bus owners to a screening of Little Miss Sunshine at Vineland Drive-In theater in City of Industry, California. 65 VW buses were present at the event.
  • The license plate of Frank's academic and romantic rival, Larry Sugarman (the #2 Proust scholar), reads "lost time", a reference to Marcel Proust's principal novel À la recherche du temps perdu or "In Search of Lost Time".
  • Inside the convenience store, the price of Frank's slurpee and the pornographic magazines came to a total of $19.79. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris had previously directed the "1979" music video by The Smashing Pumpkins.
  • Bryan Cranston's character in Little Miss Sunshine has the same name - Stan Grossman - as Larry Brandenburg's character in the classic Coen brothers film "Fargo".
  • Paul Dano's character has the same given name - Dwayne - as one of the main characters in the Kurt Vonnegut novel "Breakfast of Champions"; in addition, the referenced main character has the family name "Hoover."
  • A scene shot in Phoenix, Arizona, as the family leaves the area for California, shows the family's bus traveling eastbound on the Arizona State Route 101, crossing beneath the juncture of the Interstate 17 freeway. In reality, they would be headed in the wrong direction.
  • Most of the beauty pageant interiors were shot at the Radisson in Culver City. It is across the street from Dinah's, a restaurant where the interiors for the 'ice cream' scene were shot. Ironically, they use menus from "Pann's", another restaurant a few miles away (on LaTijera).
  • Screenwriter Steven Conrad did an uncredited draft while the film was at Focus Features. The only thing kept was Richard's trip to meet Stan Grossman.
  • Dayton and Faris directed a sketch in Mr. Show episode 404, Rudy Will Await Your Foundation, about a prenatal beauty pageant, one of many location pieces they filmed for the show. It featured one character, played by Becky Thyre, very similar to the pageant director in Little Miss Sunshine.
  • In one driving scene, Olive is shown playing with the same happy face puzzle that the main contestant played with in the 2001 HBO documentary Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen.
  • The first name of the Grandpa -Edwin- is revealed only once in the film.


SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Awards: Outstanding Performance by a Cast, Outstanding Supporting Male Actor (Arkin), Oustanding Supporting Female Actor (Breslin)

PGA (Producer's Guild of America) Awards: Best Feature Film

Golden Globe Awards: Best Musical or Comedy, Best Actress in Musical or Comedy (Collette)

Academy Awards: nominated for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Arkin), Supporting Actress (Breslin) and Original Screenplay (Arndt). Arkin and Arndt won their respective Oscars.

No comments:

Moving Pictures


About Me

My photo
Believer. Brother. Son. Nephew. Cousin. Friend. Husband. Father. Colleague. Student. Teacher. Illustrator. Actor. Director. Singer. Improviser. Listener. Observer. Passenger. Driver. Tourist. Traveller. Imaginative. Resilient.