Little Miss Sunshine is a gem. With a quirky script, a great cast and interesting cinematography, there’s plenty to appreciate as this ultimately uplifting film unfolds.
To make a great movie, they say you have to start with a great script. From there, your goal is just to not screw it up. Little Miss Sunshine‘s script laid just such a foundation for this film, as it’s unique, funny and surprisingly heartwarming. The story is about a dysfunctional family. They’ve got a crude, drug-addicted grandpa; a suicidal, gay uncle; a mother “this close” to divorcing her husband, the struggling, aspiring motivational speaker; a son who has taken a vow of silence and only communicates via scribbling on a little notebook; and a slightly chubby little daughter who’s working toward a goal of being a prepubescent beauty queen.
When the daughter by gets a shot at a big-time pageant in California, the entire family piles into an old VW bus for a long road trip. Various events both hilarious and heartbreaking happen along the way, and the family realizes just what is holding them all together.
The ensemble cast is superb. Greg Kinnear’s (As Good As It Gets) specialty is struggling-but-hopeful average-Joe characters, and he shines here as the overly optimistic father. Toni Collette (In Her Shoes) is spot-on as woman torn between being a supportive wife and mother and just getting the hell out of Dodge. Abigail Breslin (Raising Helen) is wonderful as the wannabe beauty queen, and she’ll melt and break your heart. Paul Dano (The King) is the consummate teen, who feels and says he hates everyone, but is on the road to realizing the opposite truth. Their uncle, Frank, is played hilariously by Steve Carell (The 40 Year Old Virgin), who offers comic relief both dark and physical. Finally, Alan Arkin (Thirteen Conversations About One Thing) is fantastic as their cussing, dirty-minded grandfather. Not only are each of these parts well acted, but the group shares a chemistry that raises the entire film to another level.
The film looks good, too. There are many amusing moments with no dialogue or any real action at all, like seeing the whole family sitting around a booth at a highway diner, or trundling down the road in their VW bus. The way the film is presented fits so well with the nature of the story and especially with the quirky characters.
In the end, Little Miss Sunshine is about what ties a family together, despite all of their differences. It’s that universal quality that will have viewers seeing themselves in the on-screen characters, despite – or perhaps due to – the whacky personalities. It’s hard to watch this film and not be left with a warm, positive feeling about life in general.
So the movie is definitely worth a look. How’s the DVD?
Little Miss Sunshine is presented on a single, two-sided disc, with 2.35:1 widescreen on one side, and 1.33:1 full-screen on the other. My screener copy had only the full-screen side. The transfer is plagued with compression issues, unfortunately. You can tell that it would look great, with natural colours and good contrast, if only it weren’t for the varying instances of pixilation that occur throughout the film. Too bad.
The main menu is animated, and scored.
English audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and it sounds good. The film has a nice, acoustic score, which creates a full sound, and is the perfect accompaniment to this quirky road movie. Dialogue is always clear, and there’s even a bit of directional use of the surround channels.
Audio is also available in Spanish in Dolby Digital 2.0, while English, French and Spanish subtitles are offered.
The two-sided retail disc includes a fair amount of bonus content. There are two audio commentaries, four alternate endings with optional commentary, a music video of “Till the End of Time” performed by DeVotchka, from the film’s soundtrack, and some trailers.
Unfortunately, my screener disc had only the full-screen side, which includes just the audio commentaries. The first is by directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and it’s nothing special. They admit they recorded it reluctantly, and their lack of enthusiasm makes this track a sleeper.
The second track is by directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris again, but this time with screenwriter Michael Arndt. Why two tracks with almost the same people? I have no idea, because there really isn’t a lot added here. I don’t recommend either track; just watch the movie again instead.
The rest of the features weren’t on my copy, so you’ll have to take a chance. I’d love to see those alternate endings, though.
I really enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine. It’s a special little film, and one I would recommend to anyone. The DVD presentation is about average, with the exception being the video problems, but even those wouldn’t stop me from adding this one to my collection.