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Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin
Writing Credits:
Michael Arndt

A family on the verge of a breakdown.

A family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their VW bus.

$8 million.
Opening Weekend
$370.782 thousand on 7 screens.
Domestic Gross
$59.084 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish DTS 5.1
Portuguese DTS 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 2/3/2009

• Audio Commentary with Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
• Audio Commentary with Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and Screenwriter Michael Arndt
• Alternate Endings with Optional Commentary
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• “Do You Wanna Talk?” Outtakes
• “On the Road with the Hoovers” Featurette
• “We’re Gonna Make It…: A Session With Mychael Danna and Devotchka” Featurette
• “Who Are the Hoovers?” Featurette
• “No One Gets Left Behind: The Music of Little Miss Sunshine” Featurette
• Webisodes
• Poster Galler
• Music Video and Soundtrack Spot
• Previews


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Little Miss Sunshine [Blu-Ray] (2006)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 14, 2016)

A darkly comedic indie hit, 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine introduces us to the deeply dysfunctional Hoover family. Driven, success-obsessed Richard (Greg Kinnear) conducts not-too-popular self-help seminars, while Sheryl (Toni Collette) deals with her depressed and gay, suicidal brother Frank (Steve Carell).

Grandpa Edwin (Alan Arkin) got kicked out of his retirement home and snorts drugs in the bathroom. Sullen, nihilistic teen Dwayne (Paul Dano) refuses to speak and literally counts the days until he can move out of the house, while chubby young Olive (Abigail Breslin) dreams of fame as a beauty pageant contestant.

That last issue prompts the movie’s main storyline. Olive wins a “Little Miss Sunshine” contest and this requires her to go to the next round in Southern California. Due to complications, the whole family gets stuck driving out from New Mexico in their old VW bus. Sunshine follows all their ups and downs through this process.

If Wes Anderson remade National Lampoon’s Vacation, Sunshine would be the result. Whether that’s a good thing depends on your point of view. The flick casts a much darker tone than the Chevy Chase vehicle as it takes a tortured path in its view of the family unit.

To be sure, the Hoovers are much more overtly dysfunctional than the Griswolds. The latter suffer from only minor issues, while the former are a total mess. What does it say when the suicidal one may be the biggest voice of reason?

It says that Sunshine won’t be a traditional flick, though I don’t think the film is quite as off-kilter as it’d like us to believe. Despite the myriad of problems associated with all involved, the movie really hews pretty closely to the standard road trip storyline.

When I compared it to Vacation, that wasn’t a glib assessment. Both share quite a few similarities, from a father obsessed with making it to the final destination to… well, I won’t share the others since they’d offer potential spoilers. Suffice it to say that I see a lot of the same beats in both pictures.

That also means both flicks are essentially episodic in nature, though Sunshine seems less oriented in that direction. Much of Vacation felt like a series of barely-connected comedy sketches, while the action in Sunshine meshes together in a more coherent, organic manner.

Unfortunately, that action rarely becomes terribly interesting. Sunshine relies on characters to drive it forward but it doesn’t manage to develop the roles very well. Of all the main participants, only Richard goes through an actual arc. Others change in a variety of ways, but to describe these actions as “arcs” would be an overstatement. Granted, in reality, we shouldn’t expect much to happen to people in the course of a few days, but since the movie wants us to see character growth, I don’t think it’s irrational to feel disappointed by its absence.

At least the very strong cast helps make the parts interesting. Arkin comes across especially well as the hedonistic grandpa. He makes Edwin a delightfully seedy character and avoids the usual cutesy “rappin’ grandma” traps normally thrust onto aged actors. He’s the most interesting member of the troupe.

Unfortunately, all of the other characters remain pretty boring, so despite their best efforts, the actors can’t make much from them. I couldn’t help but think Sunshine would’ve fared better in the hands of another filmmaker. This was the feature film debut of married co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and while I don’t think their inexperience harmed them – indeed, they’ve directed videos and commercials for years – I just wonder if someone else could’ve made more from the material.

As it stands, Sunshine is a sporadically amusing but ultimately lackluster flick. At its best, the movie offers a moderately entertaining study in character dynamics. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t have enough going for it to sustain attention over more than 100 minutes.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B+

Little Miss Sunshine appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a decent but somewhat erratic presentation.

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 no distractions, and some light edge haloes occurred. As for source flaws, I noticed a few specks, but nothing major marred the presentation.

Colors were good. The movie exhibited solid, fairly peppy 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 occasional haloes left this one in “C+” territory.

Given the subject matter, I anticipated little from the DTS-HD MA 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 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.

How does the Blu-ray compare to the original 2006 DVD? Audio was pretty similar; the lossless track might’ve had a little more dimensionality, but the movie asked so little of the mix that it didn’t muster much extra oomph.

Visuals showed improvements, though most came from the stronger capabilities of Blu-ray, as I got the feeling this disc simply re-used the DVD’s transfer. The Blu-ray exhibited the same weaknesses as the DVD and looked tighter/more film-like mainly because of the format’s superior capabilities. While this was a step up from the DVD, it could’ve been better.

The set mixes old and new extras, and we start with 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 lacks 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.

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.

Eight Deleted Scenes go for seven minutes, 53 seconds. These include “Boyfriend/Girlfriend”, “She Had You”, “Twenty Dollars”, “Richard Walks Down the Hotel Hall”, “Twins”, “Water Cooler”, “Surfing” and “Loser T-Shirts”. Most of these fall into the “extended scenes” category, and they include some reasonably interesting material. I don’t know how much they would’ve added to the final cut, but they’re good to see.

These also appear with optional commentary from Faris, Dayton and Arndt. They give us notes similar to those for the alternate endings, and they add some nice insights.

A new addition, Do You Wanna Talk? shows outtakes. We see Toni Collette and Steve Carell as they giggle their way through one scene. It’s standard blooper fare.

Next comes a featurette called On the Road with the Hoovers. In this 18-minute, 30-second piece, we hear from Collette, Carell, Dayton, Faris, producers Albert Berger, Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf, David T. Friendly and Ron Yerxa, executive producer Jeb Brody, and actors Greg Kinnear, Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin, and Paul Dano. “Road” covers the script and its path to the screen, story and characters, what the directors brought to the project, rehearsals and performances, the van that acts as the set through much of the film, and other aspects of the shoot.

Going into “Road”, I feared it’d be nothing more than promotional fluff. A little of that tone emerges, but we mostly get a good collection of notes. “Road” throws in nice footage from the set and turns into a satisfying program.

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.

Related to the musiuc, we find ”We’re Gonna Make It…”: A Session with Mychael Danna and DeVotchKa. It goes for two minutes, 52 seconds and shows what it describes: footage from the musical recording sessions. Like the video, it’s eminently forgettable.

Who Are the Hoovers? lasts 17 minutes, 15 seconds and features Dayton, Faris, Kinnear, Saraf, Brody, Turtletaub, Arkin, Dano, Friendly, Carell, Breslin, Yerxa, Berger, and Collette. “Hoovers” looks at cast, characters and performances. A few decent notes emerge, but too much happy talk comes along for the ride.

Next comes No One Gets Left Behind: The Music of Little Miss Sunshine. In the 10-minute., 13-second show, we hear from Dayton, Faris, DeVotchKa, Saraf, and composer Mychael Danna. As expected, this one examines the film’s score. It includes occasional nuggets but not much of real interest.

12 Webisodes occupy a total of 25 minutes, 29 seconds, and offer info from Faris, Dayton, Kinnear, Arkin, Collette, and Carell. These cover story and characters, cast and performances, and the directors’ work on the project. A few amusing moments appear – mainly via Carell’s self-interviews – but these remain promotional pieces most of the time.

A Poster Gallery shows four ads. A Soundtrack Spot goes for 32 seconds and tries to sell us the movie’s music.

The disc opens with ads for Napoleon Dynamite, The French Connection and Sideways. The Blu-ray lacks the trailer for Sunshine.

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 Blu-ray provides decent picture and audio along with a strong set of supplements. The film has its moments but never really turns into anything memorable.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

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