Saturday, December 23, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

My enthusiasm wasn't quite as high.

Last night, I went over to visit my friends Nick and Andrea for dinner and some movies. Andrea cooked up some tasty pizzas, and Nick rented a DVD of "Little Miss Sunshine" for the evening. For the record, I brought the wine and a borrowed copy of the three-CD "expanded" version of "What the Bleep Do We Know," entitled "Down the Rabbit Hole."

LMS had two directors and that might lay at the heart of the problem - it seemed to want to be two separate movies. The movie starts off promisingly enough, introducing a cast of characters that comprise a dysfunctional family. There's the father, a failed motivational speaker. His son, an emo kid, reads Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence until he enters Flight Academy. The son-in-law is a failed academic (once considered the top Proust scholar in the country) who attempted suicide after losing his grad-student lover to the number two Proust scholar in the country. Grandpa's a rebellious, dirty-mouthed old man who was kicked out of his retirement home for taking up heroin as a hobby ("At my age, you'd be crazy not to do heroin."). The daughter has delusional aspirations to be a child beauty contestant, despite her nerdy looks, weight and apparent lack of any discernible talent. I wondered aloud what the wife's character flaw might be, and Andrea suggested it was being married into this family.

Anyway, the movie starts off as a kind of dark and bitter-edged ensemble comedy, something along the lines of "American Beauty," giving each character a chance to spout off a few choice lines, usually at the expense of another character. After getting all of their dirty little secrets out onto the table, almost literally over dinner, the plot then revolves around getting all of these characters into a Volkswagen mini-bus for a road trip from Albuquerque to L.A., and this is where the movie starts to change tone.

The road movie portion starts off consistent with the opening portion, with caustic observations about the frustrations of American culture and each down-on-his-luck character getting an additional kick in the teeth, but soon too-implausible "only in the movies"-type coincidences began to distant this viewer from the film. The film then sort of swings back and forth between dark comedy and pointless side trips (literally in the case of the Dad's dashing off alone on a scooter to Scottsdale to confront his agent), and finally ends in a goofy, "Napoleon Dynamite"-style dance number. It's fun stuff, but doesn't live up to the promise of the opening sequences with their hints of meaningful insight into our human weaknesses as played out by these dysfunctional characters.

The dichotomy between the two films LMS tries to be is apparent in the marketing. I first saw previews for the film at a local art cinema (the movie's produced by Samuel Goldwyn, Jr.), which showed much of the opening dinner dialogue, and then cut to everyone getting into the VW bus, thereby only suggesting that the movie features these characters on a road trip. Theatrical marketing for the "American Beauty" and "Welcome to the Dollhouse" audience. However, the television ads for the newly released DVD skip the dinner dialogue altogether, and focus on the more madcap moments of the road trip and the ending dance sequence. T.V. marketing for the "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Jackass" fans.

So at this point, you may be concluding that I didn't like the film. To the contrary, I enjoyed it and, in fact, enjoyed it a lot. My only disappointment is that it could have been a far better film if only it had made up its mind and stuck to one style, or possibly one director.

1 comment:

Kathleen Callon said...

I liked it, too. Good luck with your job hunt.