New on DVD
DVD Review: 'Little Miss Sunshine'
Everybody else seems to love it, but our critic still didn't feeling it
Having spent the better part of a weekend watching and rewatching the Golden Globe and award season favorite, I'm disappointed to report that my coronary circumstances remain unchanged.
I've gotten to the point where I'm almost uncomfortable explaining my tepid response to what is questionably a good-hearted and well-meaning movie. "Little Miss Sunshine" is the story of the dysfunctional Hoover family who are traveling from New Mexico to California in a beat-up VW bus to fulfill nine-year-old Olive's (Abigail Breslin) quixotic dream to become a beauty queen. The characters are all thinly sketched in indie-comedy shorthand, but that doesn't stop the actors from having a ball. Alan Arkin's heroin-snorting grandpa gets all the best lines, while Steve Carell's entire body is invested with darkly humorous melancholy as suicidal gay Proust scholar Frank, and despite the fact that she as absolutely no scripted character, Toni Collette's Sheryl is a believably harried portrait of strained motherhood. It's also difficult not to fall in love with Breslin's Olive, who serves as the film's wide-eyed receptacle for the knowledge that all of life is a sordid beauty pageant with a slew of crackpot judges.
But the story and the characters and the film around them are too thin for the film's quirky and uplifting themes to stick and too many scenes reek of unbearable contrivance for "Little Miss Sunshine" to be a success. I'm talking about moments like aspiring pilot Dwayne's (Paul Dano) color blindness breakdown, Frank's oh-so-convenient gas station run-in with his ex-love, the last-breath case of sentimentality that afflicts otherwise uncouth Grandpa and the madcap corpse farce that follows.
"Little Miss Sunshine" arrives on DVD this week in a form that feels decidedly temporary. On their reluctant, but chatty commentary, directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris make repeated reference to one deleted scene after another, things that vanished both from Michael Arndt's apparently epic original script and from earlier cuts of the movie. But where are those deleted scenes? Probably waiting for a special edition DVD set.
Dayton and Faris' commentary, with the co-directors sounding exhausted at the end of a six-year filmmaking journey, is probably the highlight of the DVD package, featuring plenty of insights into low-budget production and the challenges of playing humorous material with utter seriousness. The directors pop up again on a second commentary with screenwriter Michael Arndt.
While those elusive deleted scenes are nowhere to be found, the disc includes four alternate endings that confirm yet another of my problems with the film -- nobody bothered to figure out how to end the darned thing. Given these choices -- including two where the main characters steal the pageant trophy and run off into the sunset -- I guess they picked the right one, not that any of the differences are even vaguely dramatic. Dayton and Faris do more chatting over those rejected endings.
EXTRAS: Directors audio commentary; screenwriter commentary; alternate endings with commentary; music video