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Little Miss Sunshine

Fox // R // February 3, 2009
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted February 12, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

This is the type of movie every independent filmmaker dreams of creating.After a long and arduous production Little Miss Sunshine went on to wow audiences at Sundance, was sold for eight figures, grossed nearly $60 million, and ultimately earned four Oscar nominations including Best Picture and winning two (Michael Arndt for Original Screenplay and Alan Arkin for Best Supporting Actor.) Still as charming and hilarious as when it was first released in 2006, Fox has released the movie on Blu-ray with a great image, fine sound, and some solid exclusive bonus features.

You couldn't ask for a more dysfunctional family.Olive (Abigail Breslin), the chubby young daughter, is obsessed with being a beauty queen after coming in second at a contest while visiting her cousins.Her foul-mouthed heroin addict grandfather Edwin (Alan Arkin) helps her perfect a secret routine, working with her for hours at a time. The teenage son, Dwayne (Paul Dano,) spends all of his time reading Nietzsche and exercising, looking forward to the day when he can leave home and join the Air Force to become a jet pilot.He's taken a vow of silence until that day and communicates only through written notes.The father Richard (Greg Kinnear) wants to become a motivational speaker and author, and sees everything as an example of his "9 Steps" plan, and mother Sheryl (Toni Collette) is just trying to hold everything together. The strains increase when Sheryl's homosexual brother Frank (Steve Carell) comes to live with them after a failed suicide attempt caused by being spurned by one of his grad students.

At dinner the night that Frank arrives, the family gets a fateful phone call.The winner of the beauty contest that Olive was in had to back out, which means that she's not qualified to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California, two states over. With money being tight flying is out of the question and they can't leave Edwin or Frank alone. The only solution is to pile everyone into their old VW van and trek across the country. It's not the perfect solution, far from it, but it's the only thing they can do without letting sweet Olive down.

Neither the road trip film nor 'the dysfunctional family that learns to love each other' movie are new, but this film manages to combined the two in quite an enjoyable way that's not insulting to a viewer's intelligence.Though the film is laugh-out-loud funny, the comedy wasn't silly or madcap, and it never felt forced.The humor mainly derives from the odd assortment of characters but, and this is the film's true strength, the family members aren't just one-note weirdoes. They're fleshed out people that could be living next door to you.

While it's the humorous parts that are the most fun, Dwayne writing "Where's Olive?" for instance, the heart of the movie comes from short but telling dramatic scenes.When Frank encounters the lover who spurned him in a convenience store and quickly hides his bandaged wrists the pain he felt before his suicide attempt is plainly apparent.Yet the film doesn't dwell on that and quickly lightens the tone.

The acting is superb across the board.Alan Arkin is amazing in his role as the heroin-snorting grandfather who rarely speaks without swearing. Outrageously funny, he steals all the scenes he's in and definitely earned the Oscar he was awarded.
Steve Carell plays a character that is very different from his breakout role in "40 Year Old Virgin."A more calm and sedate role, he doesn't have a lot of lines but he plays the part with a tenderness that I wouldn't have thought him capable of. The way he cheers up Dwayne near the end on the dock is both poignant and amusing.

The Blu-ray Disc:


Fox presents the film with a 1080p 2.40:1 image the MPEG-4 AVC codec, and it looks fantastic.I've seen the SD DVD several times and this Blu-ray disc is a clear improvement.The colors are more vivid though not overblown, and the level of detail is greatly improved. This disc does a great job of reproducing the various looks of the film.The early sequence of everyone eating dinner is has a warm feeling with the wood paneling containing a wide range of tones.The desert scenes when the family is driving in the van are large and bright, and the beauty pageant at the end is wonderfully garish and gaudy. In all of these the disc lives up to the challenge with bright whites that are never crushed and solid blacks.

On the digital side things are equally impressive. There was no banding even in the big sky scenes when driving cross country and edge enhancement is no where to be scene.Aliasing, blocking, and other common compression artifacts are also absent making this a wonderful looking disc.


This film boasts a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that sounds great.The film is mainly dialog based, so there isn't much in the way of fancy audio effects but then again this film doesn't need them.The dialog is clean and crisp and the background music comes through wonderfully. The one scene that really stands out in the audio department is the ending dance number. I won't ruin the surprise of what Olive dances to but suffice to say the music is appropriately loud and the mix puts the whole soundstage to good use.It's a great scene and the great sounding audio only accentuates the action on screen.


All of the extras from the SD DVD release are ported over and there's even a few new bonus items included.First off are two commentary tracks, a director's track with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and a screen writer's track with Michael Arndt, Jonathan Dayton, and Valerie Faris. While there was some information repeated between the two, both tracks are fun and enjoyable. Like most commentaries they talk about the genesis of the project and relate behind the scenes anecdotes but they do it in an entertaining and informative way.

There are also four alternate endings with optional commentary from the directors.These were hit and miss, and I can see where they had a hard time wrapping up the narrative.I preferred the ending with the trophy, but the one they ultimately went with was just as good.

Of the new extras, the best are the longer ones: "On the Road with the Hoovers: the Making of Little Miss Sunshine" (19 minutes) on the shoot, and "Who Are The Hoovers" (17 minutes) on the cast.The gag reel is okay but only lasts a little over a minute, and the music video and poster gallery I could take or leave. There's also a ten minute look at the music of the film and a short 3 minute clip with the musicians Mychael Danna and DeVotchKa. The bonus section is wrapped up with a series of webisodes that run over 25 minutes. It's a great set of bonus material that is sure to please fans of the film.

Final Thoughts:

Carefully walking the narrow line between too wacky and crazy and too morose, Little Miss Sunshine is a poignant, charming and extremely funny movie that (despite some strong language) is a great family film.Fox's Blu-ray release is excellent with a beautiful picture, great sound and some wonderful HD-only extras. I've seen this film nearly half a dozen times and it is a film that you can enjoy almost any time. Highly Recommended.

Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
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