It's the little movie that could -- focused on a supremely dysfunctional clan, yet limned with a dark comic spirit and palpable empathy for its fucked up, fucked over cast of characters, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton's big-screen directorial debut Little Miss Sunshine is that rare blend of pathos and the in-vogue awkward comedy. Most refreshing is that Michael 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 Little Miss Sunshine and see a splintered, spirited family unit grow closer and approach something resembling understanding.
To ruin the surprises of Little Miss Sunshine would rob those coming to the film for the first time: the endearingly combative Hoover family – led by self-help patriarch Richard (Greg Kinnear), daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) is a budding beauty pageant contestant and her brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) is going on nine months as a mute, studying the nihilistic works of Nietzsche. Mom Sheryl (Toni Collette) has her hands full with her suicidal brother Frank (Steve Carell) and Richard's caustic, drugged out dad (Alan Arkin).
When Olive wins a spot in the prestigious Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, the Hoovers pile into a past-its-prime Volkswagen van and head out, across New Mexico, towards the promise of a glittering future in California. Little Miss Sunshine 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.
It helps the directors that they've 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.
A handful of films worth sitting through make it out alive each year 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.The DVD
Little Miss Sunshine debuts on DVD with both a razor-sharp 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer on the reverse side of this flipper disc -- the widescreen image is very clean, vivid and saturated, as befits a recently filmed production. There are a few, fleeting instances of grain, but otherwise, this is a pretty solid visual representation.The Audio:
Music plays a fairly significant role in Little Miss Sunshine, but fortunately, the supplied Dolby Digital 5.1 track is more than up to the task; dialogue, along with the indie rock score, comes across warmly and with no discernible defects. An optional Spanish Dolby 3.0 track is included, as are optional English, Spanish and French subtitles.The Extras:
A glance at the supplements might have some thinking "double dip," 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 Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and another equally chatty one with screenwriter Michael 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.Final Thoughts:
So few films truly worth sitting through 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. Highly recommended.Portions of this review were reprinted from the Oklahoma Gazette.