Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

Written by Michael Arndt
Fox Searchlight

If Faris and Dayton's names seem familiar it's because they did a bunch of music videos for the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, R.E.M., and The Smashing Pumpkins. This is their feature debut, which premiered at Sundance and got a great amount of buzz afterwards. But Sundance can be tricky; in Peter Biskind's book Down and Dirty Pictures he makes reference to the easily-satisfied Sundance crowds who seem to like everything they watch. So I came in without high hopes based on the earlier reaction.

Movies are many times successes or failures due to the choices that are made; this may seem like a "no duh" statement, but I suspect most audiences are willing to look past how a story progresses, just assuming "that's the way it is" and not giving it one thought. But a writer can choose to decide who lives or who dies, if the wife comes home early to see the husband cheating on her or not, or if the secret hatch is going to have aliens in it or a man told to push a button every 108 minutes, or some other choice.

Little Miss Sunshine doesn't live or die according to the choices it makes, but it certainly makes an otherwise enjoyable picture less than what it could be.

In this, Olive (Abigail Breslin) is on her way to a beauty pageant in California called Little Miss Sunshine, with the help of her (of course) dysfunctional family. Her dad Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a hopeful Dr. Phil looking for money to sell his life ideas, mom Sheryl (Toni Collette) is the typical glue of the family, her uncle Frank (Steve Carell) is a gay Proust scholar who nearly committed suicide for a variety of reasons, her 15-year-old brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) is a hopeful Air Force pilot who reads Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence until he reaches his goal, and her grandfather (Alan Arkin) is a sweet anything-goes, foul-mouthed horndog with a heroine problem. Most road trip movies use the trip as an excuse to hash out the various problems, dramatically and comically, forcing its characters to come to some sort of new realization or consequence, and this movie is no different.

Everyone in the cast is great, particularly Carell, Arkin, and Breslin, not to say the other actors aren't memorable in their own ways. They make the film alive and fun to watch. But like I said, the choices this film makes veers the film to a standstill sometimes. Even though funny situations arise from these choices, it sacrifices a lot to get there. Sorry to be vague, but I don't want to give away anything. Just know, the story goes through some unnecessary bumps--some good, some bad.

There's a funny finale that skewers beauty pageants of this type--but I think a real statement wanted to burst out that never does. You can see how immoral it all is; dressing up little girls to look like tiny whores, strutting their stuff while a leering, creepily cheerful host sings and moves the proceedings along. Although the finale serves to expose the hypocrisy, I could have used some brutally frank dialogue or even a JonBenet Ramsey joke to drive it home. Ultimately, though the movie seems to have the face of a movie that will go there, it always pulls in the reins, and loses some edge.

Overall, a good picture with some disappointing results.


At 8/02/2006 06:13:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I have two words to sum up the "You can't trust Sundance" theory; "Napoleon Dynamite." Nuff said.


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