Little Miss Sunshine

The nominations:

  • Actor – Supporting (Alan Arkin)
  • Actress – Supporting (Abilgail Breslin)
  • Best Picture
  • Screenplay – Original

The Black-and-White:

GS (Feb. 9, 2007): Let me be bold: this movie will win the Best Picture Oscar. Actually, that isn’t so bold; it obviously is the Best Picture of the Year. It may not win, but it should. Here’s why.

I hesitate to start by listing the reasons why the other nominees aren’t the Best Picture of the Year — I’ll expound on that elsewhere — because that doesn’t do justice to Little Miss Sunshine. In any year, this film would be a strong contender. There is no doubt this film benefits from the fact that some of the other nominated films this year are turds. I’ll argue why in another venue, but for now, let me leave you with one word that encapsulates some of what I think about some of the other movies: “joyless”.

But enough doom and gloom. Let me cast some light on a heretoforth shadowy post; Little Miss Sunshine, what a brilliant film!

I’ll talk first about what I liked, and then I’ll mention a couple of … difficult spots.

What I liked: The story! The characters! The performances!

The story: a kooky, unexpected exploration of a family of interesting, emphathetic oddballs in a bizarre moment of their lives (and, for one poor sod, a death). The Hoovers. IMDB gives the following movie synopsis (verbatim):

“Olive is a little girl with a dream: winning the Little Miss Sunshine contest. Her family wants her dream to come true, but they are so burdened with their own quirks, neuroses, and problems that they can barely make it through a day without some disaster befalling them. Olive’s father Richard is a flop as a motivational speaker, and is barely on speaking terms with her mother. Her uncle Frank, a renowned Proust scholar, has attempted suicide following an unsuccessful romance with a male graduate student. Her brother Dwayne, a fanatical follower of Nietzsche, has taken a vow of silence, which allows him to escape somewhat from the family whose very presence torments him. And Olive’s grandfather is a ne’er-do-well with a drug habit, but at least he enthusiastically coaches Olive in her contest talent routine. Circumstances conspire to put the entire family on the road together with the goal of getting Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine contest in far off California.”

On face value, this should be a tough story to sell.

It isn’t.

The story never cheats (well, except in one case, which I’ll describe later). It interweaves many unusual premises (an “ugly duckling” daughter in a beauty pageant; a drug-addled, porn-loving grandfather as her talent coach; a porn-loving uncle who is gay and not entirely accepted by his family; a nobody-dad striving to be a motivational coach for the masses; a color-blind brother who, I think, wants to be a fighter pilot, and a mother, who doesn’t necessarily love them all, but can put out, daily, a mean dinner of (purchased) fried chicken.) Fold in an inconvenient death on a road-trip, evident conflict among the characters, and an honest resolution of conflict (with no pithy ending), and you have a wonderful insight into a universe you’ve probably not yet visited, at least for very long.

Count the levels that are in the story. If most movies this year had 1 or 2 (and some did), this movie had a whole bunch more. And, ya know what, in contrast to most movies I saw this year, I actually gave a damn.


Well, at least partially because of the characters.

The characters: We are exposed to the journey of some sympathetic, if not bizarre, people. Wow – what a concept! I may actually be engaged in a story about people for whom I care? Call 911! What a concept! But more than that, these characters happen to be a family, even though that is almost incidental to the story.

We have the “father”; a man trying to help everyone else change the world. Unfortunately, he is a true nobody. Any anybody. A guy who has an idea about how to transform the lives of everybody. He may be right. He may be wrong. We don’t know, and we won’t know, because, rightly so, like life, this movie doesn’t give him a magical opportunity to change things beyond what you or I could do.

What he does do is discover what is important to him. Imagine! Character development! Yup, it happens in this lovely movie.

In my mind, the other major characters who make this movie work are: the grandfather (more later under “performances”), and the ensemble of other characters.

I found everyone to be believable, and more importantly, sympathetic.

I loved the mom (Sheryl; played by Toni Collette) . For me, her most memorable contribution was putting, reliably, KFC on the table every night. She did it with believability. And while she wondered about her husband’s journey (Richard; played by Greg Kinnear), she had her own.

However, the jewel of the film was the character Grandpa, played by Alan Arkin.

And this leads me to…

The performances:

Alan Arkin really needs no introduction or apologies. I hot-diggity-dog loved him in ‘Catch 22″. He was awesome in “Glengarry Glen Ross” (which, for those who have read this far, I played the same character in a college play at Carleton University, in the same company that was founded by Dan Akroyd, among others).

In this movie, Alan Arkin got it all right.

He was understated, but with vivid intensity. He was flat out funny, without making it glaringly obvious why. He had a relatively small role, and not necessarily the best lines, but he stole very scene he was in.

He was the Best Supporting Actor this year (and he should win the Oscar for it)!

I also loved the performance of Olive (played by Abigail Breslin) . Having said that, history has proved that child actors sometimes turn out to be great actors, and sometimes they die of a drug overdose in a motel room. Obviously, I don’t want to wish anything but the very best fortune for Abigail, and I wholeheartedly applaud her performance in this movie. She was a gem. I don’t know if this means she should win Best Supporting Actress, or not, but she did a very, very good job in this film. I don’t feel comfortable giving too many accolades, or too many expectations, on someone so young, who nevertheless exhibits so much promise.

My issues: very briefly…

  • Can you really take a body from a hospital, cross state lines, and not get arrested?
  • Furthermore, can you arrive in LA with said body, and arrange for official handling (in a hotel parking lot, no less), with no questions asked? (Well, maybe — I have a similar experience, but you’ll have to ask me in person…)
  • Can you really drive all the way across, and back, the LA freeways in a vehicle that can’t ever stop without stalling? (If so, please, please, please tell me the route!)

Bottom line: I cared. I laughed. I wished. I believed. This was a magical story, however goofy, that made me care if the characters succeeded. I didn’t mind their faults; on the contrary, they were both enlightening and endearing.

No other movie this year took me so far, and made me so happy to go on the journey.

Little Miss Sunshine is the Best Picture of 2006.

One Response to Little Miss Sunshine

  1. K says:

    I agree, except that I am less reserved in my praise for Abigail Breslin. I first saw her as a guest on “Grey’s Anat0my” and was really impressed, but her performance in this film was even better. She was nuanced, yet unselfconscious, and I can’t say the same of Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. So far, between Breslin and Hudson, I’d choose Breslin.

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