Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, 2006)

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Antoine Doinel
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Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, 2006)

#1 Post by Antoine Doinel » Thu Aug 03, 2006 8:58 am

Saw a preview screening of this last night and was blown away. This is most simple pleasure I've had at a movie screening in a longtime. On paper it plays like your typical quirky indie comedy, but Dayton and Faris get all the details right, the relationships are real and fractured and thankfully, never tied up in a neat bow. Beautiful, hilarious and moving. The cast all around is suberb - but if I had to pick one it would be Abigail Breslin for offering something far richer than Dakota "I'm filming a rape scene so nominate me for an Oscar" Fanning has ever done.

Go see this.

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zedz
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#2 Post by zedz » Thu Aug 03, 2006 6:13 pm

Uh, I beg to differ. I agree that the cast is impressive: a great collection of truly likable actors wringing the most they can from the material, but for me it quickly degenerated into extended sit-com shenanigans with eye-twinkling life-lessons in the final act, dissipating the good will I got from the cast.

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Barmy
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#3 Post by Barmy » Fri Aug 04, 2006 1:06 pm

At least the ending suggests an affordable substitute for psychoanalysis.

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zedz
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#4 Post by zedz » Sun Aug 06, 2006 1:22 am

Barmy wrote:At least the ending suggests an affordable substitute for psychoanalysis.
But wouldn't you run out of grandparents pretty quick?

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#5 Post by neuro » Sun Aug 06, 2006 1:56 am

For the most part, I'd agree with what has already been said here; as I've seen it called, it was a "glorified sitcom," but it was a very likeable one at that, with an charming cast and a few instances of genuine transcendence. If nothing else, I'd recommend the film for the car horn gag alone (which had me laughing to the point of tears).

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Michael
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#6 Post by Michael » Thu Jan 04, 2007 6:12 pm

The beginning with the family getting together to eat left me cringing: "another indie about a dysfunctional family". But as the film proceeded, its genuine warmth and empathy for the family won my heart. And it's also brilliantly, hysterically funny.

Sure, it does feel like a "sitcom" but I think that's intended. It works successfully with this kind of story about a middle-class American family. We've seen those folks in sitcoms before but the film takes it to the next level. The film is a sweet harmony - all the elements weave together perfectly without stuffing life lessons down your throat.

What a wonderful cast... and film!

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#7 Post by DrewReiber » Thu Jan 04, 2007 6:23 pm

zedz wrote:Uh, I beg to differ. I agree that the cast is impressive: a great collection of truly likable actors wringing the most they can from the material, but for me it quickly degenerated into extended sit-com shenanigans with eye-twinkling life-lessons in the final act, dissipating the good will I got from the cast.
Wow, finally! Someone who felt exactly the way I did. I found it to surprisingly predictable and conventional, and especially tedious past the half-way point. Did anyone else see some odd attempts to translate National Lampoon's Vacation structure/plot into a drama?
Last edited by DrewReiber on Thu Jan 04, 2007 6:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Michael
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#8 Post by Michael » Thu Jan 04, 2007 6:29 pm

Did anyone else see some odd attempts to translate National Lampoon's structure/plot into a drama?
You mean like National Lampoon's Vacation?

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#9 Post by DrewReiber » Thu Jan 04, 2007 6:41 pm

Michael wrote:
Did anyone else see some odd attempts to translate National Lampoon's structure/plot into a drama?
You mean like National Lampoon's Vacation?
Craaaaaaap, I forgot a word. Thank you!

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Michael
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#10 Post by Michael » Thu Jan 04, 2007 8:28 pm

Once in a while I like to kick back and watch a little movie that is either conventional or predictable or both. That can't be a bad thing. Little Miss Sunshine doesn't try or pretend to be something else unlike too many American movies made recently. It knows and celebrates what it is - a simple sweet comedy about a broken middle-class family on the road to the beauty pageant and nothing more. The films presentation of this "dysfunctional family" is unique. They embrace and celebrate their "dysfunctions" instead of making big issues out of them or letting them destroy everything, like you see in just about every movie dealing with that kind of family in the past decade at least. Plus I applaud the film for treating a gay character so wonderfully. Much better and more mature than Brokeback Mountains treatment of the gay characters.

And oh one more thing Drew, I hope you're not saying that National Lampoon's Vacation isn't any good.

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Mr Sausage
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#11 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Jan 05, 2007 12:06 am

You write:
Michael wrote:Once in a while I like to kick back and watch a little movie that is either conventional or predictable or both. That can't be a bad thing. Little Miss Sunshine doesn't try or pretend to be something else unlike too many American movies made recently.
Then you say:
Michael wrote:The films presentation of this "dysfunctional family" is unique.
Which is it? The film cannot be "conventional" or "predictable" while at the same time being unique, since the two ideas are mutually exclusive and preclude each other.

It also muddles your defense of the film (or rather your enjoyment of it, which hardly needs defense), which is, I take it, that you like to sit down once in a while to watch a conventional film. Great--but if said film is for you a unique experience, then watching it cannot be one of those moments you describe, making your statement rather irrelevant.

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#12 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 05, 2007 3:11 am

For me the film was remarkable in that it never ceased to be predictable, yet also never ceased to be genuinely entertaining. It's a rare case of a "feel good" movie that did make me feel good at the end. I sort of wish everyone involved had spent all this energy on a more novel idea, but the end product is still somehow endearing.

One of the film's strengths was the weird avoidance of some obvious payoffs. I'm thinking of Kinnear finagling a motorbike without showing the actual acquisition, only the set up and the end result. He rides across town to confront his agent(?), then leaves without his book deal. Again, setup, end result, no middle. It's an approach to the material I found admirable.

Also, based on all the Oscar oddsmakers, it's the only film with a shot at Best Picture that isn't just worthless, so I find myself in its corner after all.

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Michael
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#13 Post by Michael » Fri Jan 05, 2007 4:04 am

No no no no...actually I was responding to Drew's calling Little Miss Sunshine "conventional" and "predictable" which left a slightly negative impression to me. Drew, correct me if I'm wrong. I was trying to make a point that there is nothing wrong with conventional films or even predictable films as long as they intend to be and achieve that. All I'm saying is that it's okay to watch movies that don't always require us to use our brains.

However Little Miss Sunshine is far from being conventional or predictable. It's completely unique and smart.

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#14 Post by DrewReiber » Fri Jan 05, 2007 5:48 am

Michael wrote:All I'm saying is that it's okay to watch movies that don't always require us to use our brains.


That's not an excuse for poor writing, whether in this film or anywhere else. When I say conventional and predictable, I don't mean that it's a problem that the film sets out to be simple. I'm talking about setups and developments that go absolutely nowhere and two-dimensional characters that are just plot devices set to go off in contrived situations that only make sense if you pretend that these characters never existed outside the film frame.

For instance, the son has no other function but to silence himself until he reaches a goal that we know will never happen onscreen. So we just keep waiting for him to talk, which is even highlighted by the other characters over and over again. All there is to do is stare at him until the rug is pulled out from underneath. And when it comes? In 17 years of his life, in the modern age, it has never occurred to him that has a visual disorder. Not in school, not by watching television or playing video games, no... he finds out by accident on the weekend that almost every single other character happens to have a life-changing incident that no one could have foreseen. Riiiight.

And when it all comes down, just like every other crisis, the pace simply halts, the family has a rah-rah speech and we move on like nothing happened. The fallout occurs at one place and one time, is conveniently brushed aside and left at whatever location where it presented an obstacle. The father and the grandfather's arcs were no different, and they were literally cookie-cutter trace jobs of earlier films, just switch the genders for the in-law. You're right, National Lampoon's Vacation *was* better than this. I at least felt that the breakdown and conclusion of that father character was earned and that there was a progression of events. Here we just had to wait until each person had their turn. The convenience store, the convention, the hospital, the final trip, etc.

Every problem presented in the film is just another isolated, dramatic sequence for characters to either monologue or act insane, and then immediately recover. It's extremely repetitious and once we've reached everyone, the movie just stops. You could immediately tell that they didn't even know what the ending should be. I'm not going to let the film off the hook for stretching out inevitable reveals that are bridged by nothing more than awkwardness and a solid cast. Any point that I felt entertained seemed completely dependent on the performances of actors who were great enough to do a lot with very little. Unfortunately, after a while, even that become unrewarding.

I'm sorry, but by the time they got to the big moment where everyone came to the aid of their little girl, I had long stopped caring. And if I did, the ending rang just as false as the family because it solved nothing more than the next 5 minutes and... just like the rest of the movie... they were ready to get back in the car and go someplace else. What, the girl won't find out what happened when she's barred from these events? I'm supposed to feel great because they did what they've been doing the entire film to survive? Oh, that's right, these characters don't exist anywhere outside the context of that weekend, so it's not like it's important what happens to them. They weren't even important enough to serve as more than roving calamity.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that the film failed to develop the characters, their relationships, or utilize any critical situation to deliver something new within the context of the story or even emotionally. Simplicity is one thing, but treading water with poorly conceived situational comedy and paper-thin cartoon characters is another. Considering that this type of film has been around for a good long time, I think it's more than fair to expect something more for my time. Smart and unique were not even remotely the terms I would use to describe what I got out of the experience. That's all I really have to say.

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Lemmy Caution
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#15 Post by Lemmy Caution » Fri Jan 05, 2007 9:24 am

And when it comes? In 17 years of his life, in the modern age, it has never occurred to him that has a visual disorder. Not in school, not by watching television or playing video games, no... he finds out by accident on the weekend that almost every single other character happens to have a life-changing incident that no one could have foreseen. Riiiight.
I can agree that the timing seemed a little too forced, but I did like the way the eye test was worked in so that I didn't see what was coming.

However, color-blindness occurs on a graduated scale. I didn't have any clue that I had any degree of color-blindness until I took a test in 10th grade Biology class (in a lesson dealing with genetics), and very surprisingly couldn't see some of the numbers embedded in the circles, which others could apparently see. It seemed like some big hoax for the first few minutes, and I would've been about 16 when I found that out. A strange and surprising revelation.

In real-life -- despite being classified as red-green color-blindness -- my only handicap is that I perceive a certain range of blues as purples. Not a big deal at all in life, and yet I nearly was flunked for my Chinese driver's license because I couldn't see those (mysterious to me) patterns and numbers among the colored circles. Akin to not being allowed to be a pilot. Fortunately, the kind nurse at my test brought the test book over to the window for better light, and gave a little prompting which included some helpful finger tracing once or twice, and I was just able to squeak by as a marginally acceptable licensed driver. A real insult, btw, if you've ever seen the way people drive in China.

My point being that color-blindness doesn't have to equate to a b&w world shaded in greys. Slight and seemingly insignificant degrees of color-blindness can lead to failing the tests, despite no appreciable impact on everyday life. Up to being tested, I just had no idea that I was perceiving certain colors differently than others.

As far as LMS is concerned, I more or less liked its quirky charm, and yet was also disappointed in its conventionality, its straining to be quirky, and especially that crappy ending. Overall, I liked the film but with defintie reservations.

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Michael
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#16 Post by Michael » Fri Jan 05, 2007 11:12 am

I understand your criticisms. You're making LMS sound like nothing but a sketch. No meat. But a couple of people here have already described LMS as being sitcom-like and I agree with that assessment. As a guy who grew up in a family hooked to every sitcom of the 70s and 80s, I wholly embrace the film's "sitcom" charm. I can see how it can drive some people up the walls. It left me smiling nonstop throughout the film. Adding meat to the film would kill it completely.

When I say it's smart and unique, I mean by the film's handling of a gay character which is refreshing and respectful, especially for a film made in America. As a gay man, I applaud that. And also the film celebrates "losers" which is kind of unheard of in American cinema and which is totally against everything we hold very dear in this country. I will never forget a friend of mine being so ticked off by Election (which is sort of similar to LMS) because it attacked everything she was brought up to believe - the ideals, the values/morals, and all.

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#17 Post by montgomery » Fri Jan 05, 2007 1:08 pm

I didn't hate the film, but I did, like others, find it to be very similar to National Lampoon's Vacation, which even now seems like the more subversive (and funnier) film.

If I'm wary of this film, it's because it represents the further watering down of "independent" film, due in part to Hollywood's method of shutting out any film with modest ambitions. Every review I read, this "quirky comedy" is called something like "the little movie that could." For me, this is the epitome of a Hollywood film, a genuine crowd-pleaser, a heartwarming comedy that can appeal to pretty much anybody, as opposed to just 14-year old boys, like most action films, or middle-aged housewives, like romantic comedies. When Vacation came out, it was a raunchy Hollywood comedy. Can you imagine if it was considered a major Oscar contender? Here is pretty much the exact same film, with a 2006 makeover, some added pretentiousness but also heavy-handedness, and it's being hailed as the great underdog, a "little gem," a film that might possibly take best picture. I don't blame the film itself; it's Hollywood's fault, but the fact that this film made nearly every reviewer's top ten list is a testament to the paucity of well-executeed formula films (as opposed to poorly executed formula films), and maybe a hint (that will be ignored) that Hollywood should start spending less money on films, and more effort putting out a decent product; likewise, the fact that the film has been hailed as some kind of triumph of independent film suggests that people, including film reviewers, should get out and watch more films.

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#18 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 05, 2007 2:59 pm

One: I think there IS something wrong with defending a movie by saying you didn't want to think about it and it was just a big ole lovable dumb movie. Any movie that you like should reveal aspects of itself to you upon a closer look that explain why you like it. Especially from someone on this board, I expect more than a tossed-off "I'm not going to look closer at the film, I just like it" attitude. We all have so-called "guilty pleasure" movies, but I am sure if you look hard at those films, you can discover why you respond so strongly to them.

Two: Only ignorant people throw around the word "pretentious" to describe things of which they have no concept. The long arguments you're making don't seem to necessarily come from ignorance, so don't use a Cliff Notes buzzword to express your objections. Use "self-important," or "over-reaching," or just you know be precise and not vague.

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#19 Post by montgomery » Fri Jan 05, 2007 3:27 pm

While I admit that my post didn't get too specific in my actual opinion of the film (that wasn't the purpose, or target, of my post), and maybe a word like "pretentious" warrants more explanation, I'm not sure I agree that it is a word only used by ignorant people, which is not to say that I'm not ignorant. In this case, I think the word "pretentious," which I take to mean a claim of unjustified merit/importance/intelligence, is more or less apt. For instance, the superficial way that Nietzsche and Proust are used throughout the film, and the embarrassing discussion about Proust masquerading as some kind of profound lesson on life, struck me as a forced attempt to turn a family comedy into something smarter and more literate than it actually is. It's one thing to bullshit your way through a conversation about Proust, but making a film that has an eminent Proust scholar as a major character, and using Proust as a springboard for an end-of-the-film heartwarming morality lesson, strikes me as pretentious, especially when the filmmakers clearly have not read much Proust, and apparently expect the audience to know less about Proust than they do.

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Michael
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#20 Post by Michael » Fri Jan 05, 2007 3:46 pm

How is that pretentious? There are scholars like him out there. I really like that moment when he attempts to explain Proust to that teen guy. At least that guy opens his mind and listens to him. I've been in that position too many times to count. For instance, I attended a Christmas party where a Hamilton College scholar talked to me about nothing but the writer John Barth. I could had walked away easily but I stayed and learned a thing or two about that writer...because that was my choice. I dont' see anything pretentious about that. He just couldn't help being obsessed with John Barth!

LMS is not about Proust or even a Proust scholar. The family happens to have a Proust scholar in it. That's all.

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#21 Post by montgomery » Fri Jan 05, 2007 4:06 pm

I didn't mean to imply that LMS is about a Proust scholar. I said in another post that LMS is like Nat'l Lampoon's Vacation "with a 2006 makeover, some added pretentiousness but also heavy-handedness." Mr. Harvey said I was ignorant for using the word "pretentious" so I explained what I meant by "added pretentiousness." To me, it's pretentious not because there's a Proust scholar in the film, but because I found the discussion about Proust to be superficial, having nothing in particular to do with Proust, and yet it was presented as a profound life-lesson. I understand that this was a small part of the film, and it didn't account for my overall opinion of the film, which was that it was a moderately well-crafted, if formulaic, feel-good comedy.

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#22 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 05, 2007 4:09 pm

To be fair, I said ignorant people use the word "pretentious," and that having read your posts you didn't sound ignorant, so you shouldn't use the word.

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#23 Post by obloquy » Fri Jan 05, 2007 5:18 pm

The only part I really thought was great was the girl's dance at the end. Otherwise it was pretty weak.

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#24 Post by Steven H » Fri Jan 05, 2007 8:48 pm

domino harvey wrote:To be fair, I said ignorant people use the word "pretentious," and that having read your posts you didn't sound ignorant, so you shouldn't use the word.
They could have said that segment was "marked by an unwarranted claim to importance or distinction", but then why waste time typing out the entire definition of a word? Why not just use it? Some words just rub people the wrong way. Personally, I have an issue with "kindred", especially used in context of "kindred spirits" said drunkenly by college sorority members about their friends.

*shudder*

I haven't seen the film, but it sounds like a nightmare.

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Michael
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#25 Post by Michael » Fri Jan 05, 2007 9:52 pm

LMS is not a nightmare. I watched it again tonight and I loved it even more. The film is driven by the same spirit as a bunch of 1980s sitcom-comedies, such as National Lampoon's Vacation, 9 to 5 and The Cannonball Run - the comedies I adored so much as a kid. With a pinch of Short Cuts and Election thrown in that delightful fruit salad. Thanks to LMS for bringing that kid out of me again.
Last edited by Michael on Sat Jan 06, 2007 1:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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