In the early '90s, music videos changed from a wall of keyboards, bad lighting, monotone lip-syncing, and Reagan era-decadence into mini art films, sometimes short and compact, at other times elaborate and moody. The 1990s brought forth a surge of talented directors to the music video world. Along with MTV staples like Mark Romanek, Mark Pellington, Kevin Kerslake, David Fincher, Spike Jonze and Samuel Bayer, husband and wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris entered the fray. Little Miss Sunshine is their directorial debut and it is a sure-handed and confident slice of familial dysfunction that is also one of the year's very best films.
Young Olive Hoover dreams of being in a beauty pageant. When the opportunity arises for her dream to come true her parents Richard and Sheryl (Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette) load up their VW bus and head for California. Along for the ride is Dwayne (Paul Dano), the Hoover's mute-by-choice, Nietsche-reading teenage son, Edwin Hoover, Richard's father, and Frank (Steve Carell in a terrific performance), Sheryl's brother.
Abigail Breslin is adorable as Olive and aptly conveys both heartache and happiness without breaking stride. Paul Dano's Dwayne should also be mentioned. Dano embues his angsty teenager role with the right amount of bemused detachment and isolation that echoes perfectly the sullen teen attitude cliche we've all seen before, yet the script allows Dano to encase Dwyane with a sense there's something more going on there. It is a role that is played pitch perfect. And of course Steve Carell is masterful as Frank, a Proust scholar on the brink of giving up on life but pulled back by his own awakening. For Carell this marks a noted departure from the genre he's made his bread and butter on and he excels. Frank and all of the characters for that matter are not the paper-mache cutouts that populate most movies this days. They're fully realized people who want very badly to be a nuclear family and must go to great lengths to discover what that means to them in their own way.
Dayton and Faris are not Michael Bay (thankfully) and Little Miss Sunshine is shot in a very straightforward manner. The earlier dysfunction I spoke of is indeed a prevalent theme but it does not overpower the film to the point of tedium. Dark humor bleeds through from time to time yet there's still a bite to the proceedings and it makes for a great blend of humor mixed with the cynical disposition of the characters. Essentially Little Miss Sunshine offers up the common knowledge that we don't get to choose our family but if we take time to get to know them and cherish them, we'll all be alot richer for it. Instead of numbing your brain with the mindless tedium that usually populates the cineplex, seek Little Miss Sunshine out. It is an original, thoroughly alive film that treats its characters and its audience with respect, intelligence, and wit, something sorely lacking in most films these days.
I've been following this film ever since the making of it was chronicled on Bravo's Project Greenlight back in 2004. Well then came the Miramax/Weinstein Brothers divorce and the Weinsteins decided they liked the film and took it with them (along with their genre company Dimension Films) to their new film company, The Weinstein Company. It's been sitting on a shelf ever since, give or take the horror convention screenings here and there over the past year or two. Flash forward to now. Dimension Films will FINALLY be releasing this in two special "late-night screenings" this Friday and Saturday night at 10PM and later at selected theaters across the country.
Go here - feast-movie.com - to find the theater playing Feast in your area this weekend.
I was at first dismayed because the only theater playing it here is across town and I thought that it was only playing Friday night -- when I don't get off work until 10PM. Well thankfully I get off of work Saturday at 6PM so Feast here I come. The many horror sites I frequent tout this film as an unpretentious throwback to the gory horror flicks of the '80s that we know in love. I get paid Friday so I will be grabbing a big tub of popcorn and a Cherry Coke and immersing myself in horror movie goodness.
Now, a bowl of Fruity Cheerios (if you've not tried them I pity you...honestly...they're made from whole grain, they have 25% less sugar than regular cereal, and they're flavored with real fruit juice -- so go buy a couple of boxes!) and then I'm off to bed.