Little Miss Sunshine appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. An erratic transfer, this one came with a mix of ups and downs.
Sharpness usually worked well. A few shots looked just a smidgen soft, but those were rare. The movie mostly remained reasonably concise and accurate. Jagged edges and shimmering created some distractions, and a little edge enhancement also occurred. As for source flaws, I noticed a few specks, and the flick seemed a bit grainier than usual.
Colors were good. The movie exhibited solid tones that matched its visual design. Blacks seemed fine, while shadows were acceptable. Low-light shots could be a bit muddy, but they were adequate across the board. Though much of the flick looked pretty good, I thought the light debris and distracting jags/shimmering left this one in “C+” territory.
Given the subject matter, I anticipated little from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Little Miss Sunshine, and the mix matched my expectations. The soundscape usually remained modest and focused on gentle environmental information. Not much activity emerged from this subdued piece, as it stayed with light ambience much of the time. A few scenes on the road added slight kick but not much. The surrounds lacked much involvement and never stood out as anything noticeable. Occasionally a vehicle moved to the rears, but most other utilization of the surrounds was very minor.
Audio quality was positive. Speech seemed natural and crisp, with no edginess. Effects were clean and accurate, while music sounded smooth and concise. Low-end response was perfectly adequate. This was an acceptable mix for a low-key movie.
A decent array of extras fills out the set. We find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. They discuss the project’s long path to the screen and changes from the original script, musical choices, locations, casting, characters and performances, challenges coming from the world of commercials and videos, their collaborative style, technical issues, and a mix of other production topics.
At the outset, Faris describes herself as a reluctant commentator, but no negative attitude materializes. Indeed, this turns out to be a pretty solid little track. Faris and Dayton cover a lot of territory in a concise and informative manner. We find a nice overview of the production with little filler or spots that drag, so this becomes a decidedly useful discussion.
For the second track, we get Dayton and Faris with screenwriter Michael Arndt. All three sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. Though we get a mix of notes about general production subjects, topics connected to characters, story and script dominate. Inevitably, some of these duplicate information from the first commentary, but even if they didn’t, I’d deem this track less satisfying than its predecessor.
That’s mostly due to the discussion’s tone. While the directors’ commentary comes without a lot of praise and happy talk, this one compensates. No, it doesn’t suffer from a ridiculous excess of those laudatory elements, but those sorts of comments materialize a lot more often than I’d like, and they make the discussion less satisfying. On its own, this is actually a decent commentary, but it suffers by comparison to its predecessor.
The commentaries accompany both widescreen and fullscreen versions of the film, but the other elements are side-exclusive. Side One features four Alternate Endings which fill a total of five minutes, nine seconds. The directors dislike the first so much that they won’t let us watch it with production audio; they provide commentary to discuss its problems. The other three scenes come closer to the spirit of the final flick’s conclusion, but they’re uniformly mediocre.
We can watch all of these with or without commentary from Faris and Dayton. They chat about the different conclusions and let us know why they rejected them. The remarks help us understand the processes involved with producing the flick and its ending.
Over on Side Two, we discover a music video for DeVotchKa’s “Till the End of Time”. Directed by “Dwayne Hoover”, the clip simply intercuts movie shots with lip-synch band performance. It’s a snoozer.
In addition to a 30-second soundtrack spot, we get a collection of trailers. Unfortunately, we don’t find the ad for Sunshine. Instead, we get promos for Sideways, Garden State and The Illusionist.
Occasionally entertaining but often somewhat dull, Little Miss Sunshine disappoints. I’d heard great things about the movie and wanted to like it, but beyond some good performances and a smattering of laughs, the film falls short of its goals. The DVD offers mediocre picture and audio along with some interesting extras highlighted by a pair of commentaries. Sunshine might merit a rental for fans of low-key indie comedy, but that’s the most I can recommend.