Monday, January 29, 2007


A surprising number of film critics have called LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE "a gem." If it is, it's tourmaline.

Don't get me wrong, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE isn't a bad movie by any means, but it isn't all that good either. At best, it is mediocre. Some made-for-television movies are better, even ones made in Bulgaria. Coming in at approximately $8 million (about 1/4 the average made-for-TV budget), one has to wonder where the money went.

How an overhyped, glorified sitcom received four Oscar nominations can only be explained as yet another case of the Academy Selection Committee having their heads shoved up where the sun doesn't shine -- and this is by no means a LITTLE MISS on their part, it is a big one. SUNSHINE's inclusion in the Best Picture category cheats at least two dozen more worthy efforts. The same can be said for the two supporting actor nominations and, to a lesser extent, the one for screenwriting.

Directed by the husband-wife team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, whose previous directorial efforts consisted primarily of music videos and television commercials, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is the tale of a dysfunctional family on the road in search of self-realization. While there are a number of amusing moments, the film never approaches Griswoldian proportions, and so this journey from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach is overly long, predictable and only modestly amusing.

To his credit, screenwriter Michael Arndt examines the prevailaing American belief that "everyone must be a winner." Richard Hoover, played with indifference by Greg Kinnear, is the obsessive father trying to make a living as a self-help guru with a "9-Step Refuse To Lose Program." His compulsive preoccupation with winning drives everyone crazy. It's a good thing that "Red" Klotz is nowhere to be seen -- his Washington Generals being the epitome of all that Richard disdains.

Alan Arkin, as Grandpa Hoover, steals every scene he is in; too bad he dies half-way through the movie. His entertaining performance garnered him a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but it is hardly deserved. I cannot help but think this is a case of Hollywood wanting once more to simply pat an old, well-liked geezer on the back. Having said this, Arkin's nomination is far more deserving than that of Abigail Breslin, the young girl whose dream is to become a beauty queen. Again, little Ms. Breslin isn't necessarily bad, but her frumpy role as Olive Hoover is a long way from being Oscar-worthy. I have to believe the Academy members were drinking something far stronger than Shirley Temples when they made this indefensible decision.

Surprisingly, the final scenes at the "Little Miss Sunshine Pageant" are as frightening as anything George Romero has brought to the screen. All the contestants, except Olive, are JonBennet Ramsey clones. Creepy lilliputian beauty queen wannabees parading in besequinned gowns and Princis Di chapeaus, their tiny faces adorned with fluttering false eyelashes, heavily mascaraed eyes and cherry-red lips morphing these parading pint-sized little pixies into living and breathing Tinkerbells from Hell. It's a chilling indictment of misguided glitz, glamour and the pursuit of glory -- for these little glowworms simply being human isn't enough any more.