Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Video Review: Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine

In Brief: What's Good

  • A few nice character moments.

  • A few nice images and moments of decent directing.

In Brief: What's Bad

  • Barely funny and not uplifting as many reviews have said.

  • Several logic flaws.

  • Several unlikeable character traits.

  • Story just okay to begin with; plummets to painful-to-watch status in last five or ten minutes.

  • Over-rated & disappointing; doesn't deserve the awards & nominations it's getting.

D Story
B- Acting
C+ Directing
B Visuals

After another finalist in California's Little Miss Sunshine competition is forced to drop out, a slot opens for a local Albequerque beauty pageant runner-up named Olive Hoover (played by Abagail Breslin), a 9-year-old girl from an eccentric family. With a tight timeframe and a limited budget, the whole family is forced to get Olive from New Mexico to the competition in Redondo Beach, California using their bright yellow, transmission-challenged Volkswagen van.

Olive's family consists of: (1) Her father Richard (Greg Kinear), a financially-challenged motivational speaker with an obsession for winning attitudes and a low tolerance for losers; (2) Her mother Sheryl (Toni Collette) who is the dutiful and open-minded glue that holds the family together; (3) Her teenage brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) who hates his family and has taken a vow of silence until he can achieve his dream of flying fighter jets; (4) Her foul-mouthed, porn-obsessed, drug-addicted grandfather (Alan Arkin) who has trained Olive in her dance routine and is the only one who truly believes in Olive's talent and inner beauty; and (5) Her gay uncle Frank (Steve Carrell), an esteemed college professor who has recently attempted suicide after the student he was in love with fell for another older, even more esteemed colleague of Frank's.

For a child actress, Abagail Breslin has earned a supporting Oscar nomination in her role as Olive. She did very well in the role, but I'm not sure it was Oscar-worthy (and, to be honest, I'm a little bitter that this nomination couldn't have gone to another excellent child actor, Keke Palmer, for her role in Akeelah and the Bee, still my #1 favorite movie of 2006).

Greg Kinear gives a decent performance, but I felt his subplot concerning a soured business deal that puts the family in financial jeapordy was not well explained or fully developed. Alan Arkin's grandpa character had brief glimpses of warmth and wisdom, but his character was diminished by his addictions and vulgarities. Toni Collette and Steve Carrell did the best they could, but I felt their characters lacked depth and weren't given much to do.

The best character was probably the teenage brother Dwayne. In the beginning, he came off as just another angst-ridden teenager. But, I like that we saw more to his character than his obsession, anger, and bizarre vow of silence. While he may claim that he hates his family and the whole world, we actually see from him several moments of humility, concern, and support.

There were a few things that didn't make sense in the movie. First of all, how could Olive have come in 2nd in the local Albequerque contest without her family knowing what her entry in the talent competition would look like? Second, if the family went to the time, money, and trouble of traveling across three states, you'd think they'd want to see what they were going for, but they never do ask to see a preview of Olive's talent routine. I think Olive's entry in the talent competition requires some shock value, so the family logically wanting to see her routine ahead of time would not have been convenient to the story.

Little Miss Sunshine has garnered a lot of critical acclaim and several award nominations, including an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. To a certain extent, I can *almost* see why, because there are some nice character moments sprinkled throughout the movie and a few nice visual choices from the director. The story had potential and a *few* redeeming qualities. Ultimately, I ended up not liking it because of the numerous flaws throughout the movie, the annoying character traits of the grandfather character who had the potential to be much more likeable, and the total mess that the movie degrades into in the last five or ten minutes, during the talent competition at the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant.

Oscar Awards

  • Win - Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin

  • Win - Best Original Screenplay: Michael Arndt

  • Nomination - Best Picture

  • Nomination - Best Supporting Actress: Abigail Breslin

Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Win - Best Motion Picture Cast

  • Nomination - Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin

  • Nomination - Best Supporting Actress: Abigail Breslin

Golden Globe Awards

  • Nomination - Best Comedy or Musical Motion Picture

  • Nomination - Best Comedy or Musical Actress: Toni Collette

Fun Facts from Wikipedia

The movie was shot in sequence. No first-unit photography took place in New Mexico. The Redondo Beach locations were shot in Ventura because no freeways lead to the beach in Redondo Beach. All the girls acting as beauty pageant participants, except Abigail Breslin, were veterans of real beauty pageants. They had the same outfits, hair styles, and talent acts as they did in their real-life pageants.

Fun Facts from Internet Movie Database

The role of gay uncle Frank was originally written with Bill Murray in mind, and the studio wanted Robin Williams. Abrigail Breslin wore a fat suit for the part of Olive. The "heroin" snorted by Alan Arkin in the beginning of the movie was actually crushed up vitamin B pills.

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