Saturday, 21 June 2008

Review: Little Miss Sunshine

This reminded me a lot of Wes Anderson's films: The focus on character dynamics rather than overarching events, the dysfunctional group interacting in bizarre and unexplained ways, and the sense that we were simply seeing a small slice of a much bigger story. As a "comedy" as well, it inspires the inner smile that Anderson so often provokes rather than an external laughter that more mainstream comedies aim for. And in general, it suceeds in provoking this inner smile - the performances are subtle enough to keep the quirky characters from becoming stereotypes, and there's enough of a dark edge to the proceedings to keep things from becoming too bubbly.

The large central family cast works well together, and it's very difficult to pick out any one performance as particularly impressive. In the same way, there are no weak links, and everyone handles their moments on centre stage very well. Abigail Breslin is excellent as the young girl at the centre of the story, definately one to keep an eye on in the future, and Alan Arkin also very much impressed me as the foul mouthed grandfather.

If there was one drawback to the size of the cast, it's that it means that the time spent on each character has to be restricted, and so some of the stories feel slightly half-constructed. Not, I hasten to add, as though they were insubstantial stories, since all of the characters feel like they have solid backgrounds, but it also feels like the whole film could have been devoted to any of the relationships between the various family members, and still had plenty of material. In this sense, then, it's slightly disappointing that we can't spend more time with them, but at the same time it solidifies the impression that this is a snapshot of a much larger story that we can only guess at.

It's interesting that the central focus of much of the journey, the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, is mentioned relatively little. It's introduced tangentially, and the issues associated with pageants themselves are never discussed. Instead, the film simply allows us to observe without providing commentary itself, which puts the emphasis on the audience to make a judgement. It's an interesting judgemnt to make, since there's the contrast between the obvious joy it gives Olive to perform in front of people, and the way it builds her confidence to have something she is able to excel at, and the strange robotic appearance of the experienced pageant girls (played by real pageant contestants), who are so focussed on perfection that they become creepy life-size dolls, tarted up almost identically and with fixed smiles seeming to lack any passion or enjoyment.

As a look into the bizarre world of child beauty pageants, then, it's a partial success, since the tangential way the subject is dealt with robs it of some of the impact it could have made. What it loses in the impact of this one area, though it more than makes up for in engaging characters and a nicely paced dramatic storyline not without its twists.

Abigail Breslin: Never feels like she's just there because she's the right age - does brilliantly on her own as well as when paired with the rest of the family.

Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette: Do well to give as much of an insight into their relationship as they can in limited screentime.

Paul Dano and Steve Carell: Provide the darker side of the storyline as well as a regenerative message. Both are brilliant, and their relationship is one that it would have been great to see expanded.

Alan Arkin: Manages to play an outrageous character without delving into one-dimensional stereotype. Great contrast in his dealings with Olive versus the rest of the family.

Cinematography: Fine. Makes good use of the rolling vistas that a travel movie has access to, and the internal scenes feel dynamic and interesting.

Script: Fine. Didn't notice any problems.

Good because: The characters are engaging and leave you wanting more. The story holds a nice line somewhere above mawkish and silly, and it never degenerates into feelgood nonsense.

Bad because: It never leaves you laughing out loud, and leaves you wanting more. Minor quibbles, though.

If this film were a drink, it would be a fine wine. Not something that you can swig back on a moments notice, but drunk properly, it has multiple layers to enjoy.



James said...

IT managed to make immedia laugh hard enough to be sick, that was pretty impressive.

TheTelf said...

Yep. She'll probably claim it was a "medication conflict" or some such rubbish, but it was totally laughter...

immedia reaction said...

I was not the only one laughing... You all were too.

And FYI it was laughter leading to coughing which led to vomiting.

And yes, it just so happens that when I got home and checked the leaflet that came with the uber-strength painkillers I was prescribed for RSI, it said it should not be prescribed to people already on hayfever meds. Needless to say I have not taken the painkillers since. And I have coughed lots, because my hayfever is rather bad, and not thrown up once.


James said...

Hey, I agree, I laughed too, just pointing out to Telf that it definitely had laugh-out-loud moments.

Feels strange writing laugh-out-loud rather than lol, somehow like an outsider looking in on the internet.

immedia reaction said...

I was going to make the point to Patrick that he must have taken amnesia tablets if he'd forgotten the bit that made EVERYONE laugh out loud, but then he was mocking me having thrown up so I got distracted and went for a more generalised comment that included him.

I wasn't intending to accuse you of not laughing as a result... The dance scene was hella funny.

TheTelf said...

Z0mg at the twisting of my words...

Yeah, that line in the review when I was all: "no one laughed at this movie at all. I was looking round the whole time, and no one even giggled", that line was probably wrong.

Seriously, though, I lol'd a few lols, but didn't rofl, lmao or, heaven forfend, roflmfao at all, all reactions that other films/tv shows have provoked. And I think that was the distinction I was trying to make.

immedia reaction said...

I think very few people have ever actually genuinely rofl'd, or indeed roflmao'd.

I would say that the mirth which was evident during "Can't Touch This" was much greater than a lol'ing. Fer sure.

immedia reaction said...

Incidentally, how does one delve into a one-dimensional stereotype anyway?

TheTelf said...

One man's lol is another's rofl, I suppose.

And I meant 'delving' in the sense of 'resorting to'. I hope you're not suggesting that that's incorrect...

happylittlecynic said...

Hmm... I found the reaction from all of you slightly strange. When I first saw this film, in a cinema in Hampstead, it had all four or five of us completely helpless with laughter, clutching our sides and gasping for breath. I expected to laugh less this time, because I've seen it before. Maybe the spell was slightly broken by the jumping and stalling of the DVD (bloody scratches... mumble, grumble...).

TheTelf said...

I hope we're not suggesting that not only might people react to the same piece of cinema in different ways, but even if reacting in the same way, they might express that reaction differently? 'cos that would just be bizarre.

Also, I fear we're placing too much emphasis on the amount we laughed at as opposed to the amount we enjoyed the film.

happylittlecynic said...

Sarky bastard.

I just thought it was an interesting difference, and one I couldn't quite figure out a convincing reason for (although there are many candidates).

Anyway, let it be known that we all thought the film was marvellous and anyone who thinks differently will be personally hunted down and 'silenced' by me.

TheTelf said...

"Agreed", he said in the manner of one not wanting to be hunted down or silenced.

immedia reaction said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
immedia reaction said...

Patrick, if I didn't make it clear the first time, let me make it "as crystal" this time, when I say that YOU ARE INCORRECT.

I think you'll find "delving" and "resorting to" are far from equivalent.

"Delving" implies something having depth into which said delving could be done. And by definition something of one dimension has no depth. So you are only factually and grammatically incorrect, you are also mathematically incorrect.


And Martin, did you notice the bit where I was so short of breath I coughed and threw up? Or were you all like this the entire way through? :P And incidentally, if you ever want to hunt Patrick down and silence him, I'll be happy to help out ;)

TheTelf said...

"And by definition something of one dimension has no depth" - unless that dimension is depth. A semantic point, but an important one.

"you are also mathematically incorrect" - not even close.

If we were talking about something literally one-dimensional, rather than something metaphorically one-dimensional, you might have a point. Instead, however, we were talking about a performance, and I would argue that a one-dimensional performance is an easier thing to do than a fleshed out one.

I feel that he could have 'delved into' a set of actions that would have reduced the weight of his performance substantially. By not resorting to a one-dimensional performance (by resisting from delving into the actions that would make up such a performance), he gave a better performance than he might have done.

That was my logic behind the line, anyway.