directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
USA 2006

 

Fox Searchlight, the branch of 20th Century Fox partial to independent films, is gradually becoming one of the more consistently successful (both commercially and critically) studios after a banner year in 2006. Founded in 1994, the studio eventually had a major success with “The Full Monty” (1997), which was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director at the 1998 Academy Awards. Although failing to win either of said prizes, “The Full Monty” was met with otherwise favorable notices. Fox Searchlight’s next successes came much later, and once again, were British imports. Both “Bend it Like Beckham” (2002) and “28 Days Later” (2002) had strong runs at the box office, while the latter stood out on several critics’ year-end lists. After the surprise hit “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004), which generated an astonishing profit, momentum shifted to Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” (2004), which picked up exceptional notices in several critical circles and was a forerunner in the Oscar race. In 2006, Fox Searchlight changed pace, releasing their first non-English-language film, “Water.” 2006 also marks another opportunity for the studio to pick up several awards at the Oscars with their comedy “Little Miss Sunshine” -- a film that has a good a chance as any to pick up the elusive Best Picture award.

Little Miss Sunshine” premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, where it became an outright audience favorite. Directed by music video veterans Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the film is equipped with a pleasant blend of wry comedy and touching drama set to the dynamics of a dysfunctional family who embark on a road trip to California. On the surface, their journey bears typical genre archetypes complete with self-discovery and bonding, but the nuances that the talented actors bring to their respective characters provide the film with warmth and meaning.

In an impressive opening sequence consisting of a series of brief vignettes, the Hoover family is introduced as more than just the typical American family. Seven-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) stares awestruck at her family’s big screen television watching and emulating the reaction of a beauty pageant winner, her father (Greg Kinear) lectures on a self-help program to a sparse audience, her uncle (Steve Carell) is recovering from an attempted suicide, her grandfather (Alan Arkin) struggles with his cocaine addiction, her brother (Paul Dano) tirelessly exercises and maintains a vow of silence, and her mother (Toni Collette) battles to sustain unity in her family. Afterwards, the Hoover family assembles for a dinner consisting of fast food and inevitable bickering. The introduction to these characters is essential in setting the tone for the remainder of the film, and the directors’ effective approach reminds me of the similarly-toned Wes Anderson film “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001). Anderson, keen on film history, was inspired by Orson Welles’ “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942), but both his film and “Little Miss Sunshine” share themes of failure and longing for acceptance. More importantly, both films arrive at conclusions that embrace individuality.

Admittedly, the vast array of excessive characterizations sound slightly contrived on paper, but the actors lend a fine sense of sincerity and naiveté to aid in the believability of potentially artificial scenes. The ensemble cast is adept at playing their roles straight without forcing the jokes. The humor is often subtle and found within the actors’ body language. Arkin clearly lightens the mood of the film with his character’s outspokenness on everything and anything. His work is starkly contrasted with Carell’s physical comedy and sarcasm. Aside from the humor, the creation of family is easily the ensemble cast’s greatest accomplishment. Directors Dayton and Faris have clearly integrated their own experiences to coincide with writer Michael Arndt’s cynical, but touching, slice of Americana.

It’s difficult to say whether Arndt set out to demonize beauty pageantry or whether the ending is a consequence of presenting a presumably honest perspective. Regardless, there’s a bitter skepticism cast over the final sequence that’s disguised by, arguably, the only instance of outrageous humor. Whether this skepticism resonates or the laughter presides will determine one’s lasting perspective on the film. I was left comfortably lingering between the two in a state of pure bliss, which is a welcome experience in present day’s sparse catalog of enjoyable American comedy.

Kurtis Beard

Posters

Theatrical Release: August 18th, 2006 (wide)

Reviews    More Reviews    DVD Reviews

DVD Comparison: 

20th Century Fox - Region 1 - NTSC vs. 20th Century Fox - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

Big thanks to Kurtis Beard for the Review!

DVD Box Cover

Distribution

20th Century Fox

Region 1 - NTSC

20th Century Fox

Region 'A' - Blu-ray

Runtime 1:42:26 1:42:34.273
Video

2:37:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.22 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

Disc Size: 38,576,198,015 bytes

Feature Size: 31,333,214,208 bytes

Total Bitrate: 40.73 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Bitrate

Blu-ray

Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) DTS-HD Master Audio English 4065 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4065 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
DUBs: DTS Audio Portuguese 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Spanish 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
Dolby Digital Audio French 448 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps
Commentary: Dolby Digital Audio English 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps
Commentary: Dolby Digital Audio English 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps
Subtitles English, Spanish, French, none English, Chinese (traditional and simplified), French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2:37:1

Edition Details:
• Commentary with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
• Commentary with Michael Arndt, Jonathan Dayton, and Valerie Faris
• Music Video for DeVotchKa’s “Till the End of Time”
• Four Alternate Endings with Commentary

DVD Release Date: Dec. 19th, 2006
Keep Case

Chapters 24

Release Information:
Studio: 20th Century Fox

 

Disc Size: 38,576,198,015 bytes

Feature Size: 31,333,214,208 bytes

Total Bitrate: 40.73 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Edition Details:
• Commentary with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
• Commentary with Michael Arndt, Jonathan Dayton, and Valerie Faris

• Four Alternate Endings with Commentary

• Do You Wanna Talk (1:17)

• On the Road with the Hoovers: the Making of Little Miss Sunshine (18:30)

• We're Gonna Make It - A Session with Mychael Danna and DeVotchKa (2:52)

• Who Are The Hoovers (17:15)

• No One Gets Left Behind - the Music of Little Miss Sunshine (10:13)

• Webisodes (25:29)

• Poster Gallery (4 in slideshow)
• Music Video for DeVotchKa’s “Till the End of Time”

• Soundtrack Spot (:31)

Blu-ray Release Date: February 3rd, 200
9
Standard
Blu-ray Case

Chapters 24

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: - Fox Blu-ray - February 09': It was such a pleasure seeing this fabulous film yet again - possibly my 5th time - now in 1080P resolution. As the matched screen captures will bear-out - everything is superior - colors more true, tighter, detail sharper, and you can see some good grain in the image now. There is also slightly more information in the frame on all four sides. Technically this is a dual-layered disc with the feature taking up over 30 Gig supported by a strong bitrate. The image improvement is a very notable and welcome improvement.

Audio gets a bump to DTS-HD 5.1 Master which is only really noticeable in the film's music score which includes Rick James "Super Freak" and DeVotchKa's "Til the End of Time". Dialogue is clear and crisp and there are no outstanding flaws.

Supplements appear to have the same commentaries and alternate scenes plus the Blu-ray has added a few nick-knacks here and there - the advertised Gag Reel seems to consist of "Do You Wanna Talk" for less than 1.5 minutes of one scene but enjoyable were On the Road with the Hoovers: the Making of Little Miss Sunshine running close to 20 minutes and Who Are The Hoovers for almost the same length of time. There is a piece on the Mychael Danna and DeVotchKa's music of the film and a short session with them, almost 30 minutes of Webisodes and finally 4 posters in a slideshow. Very complete.

Little Miss Sunshine is a film I could watch at any time - Kinnear, Arkin and Carell's characters always break me up. It is funny, warm and very human. The Blu-ray is the best way to appreciate these qualities, in my opinion. If you haven't seen this - it's an 'essential' although be warned there is some very adult language at times. Overall this Blu-ray is enthusiastically recommended! 

Gary Tooze

***

ON THE DVD: Video: Oddly enough, Fox has decided to include both widescreen (with a 2:37:1 aspect ratio and anamorphic video) and full screen versions of the film on a flipper disc. For such a recent film, it’s not unreasonable to expect a crisp, detailed transfer with vivid colors and sufficient contrast. Fox delivers on all accounts. I’ve read some reviewers claim to have seen instances of grain. If anything, such instances are extremely rare and only evident in outdoor long-shots. Of course, the archival beauty pageant footage in the opening scene is pixilated, but the effect is clearly desired. Fox’s presentation is otherwise impeccable.

Audio: Two principle tracks are provided with this release. There is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track and an optional Spanish Dolby Digital 3.1 track. With a soundtrack that embraces the independent roots of the film, the music is well-defined and absent of any problems. With the exception of Olive’s celebratory scream featured in the theatrical trailer, I’d be hard pressed to find an instance that challenges the expressive 5.1 track.

Extras: Perhaps the most important answer potential buyers are looking for is whether there’s the chance there will be a “double dip” sometime in the near future. It’s very difficult to say and dependent on how successful “Little Miss Sunshine” is during the upcoming awards season. Until then, we’ll have to make do with a couple of enlightening and enjoyable commentary tracks and several minutes worth of “alternate endings.” The directors’ track is quite personal as the couple explains the difficulty faced in trying to get the movie financed and the six years they devoted to it. Several amusing anecdotes are also shared with insights behind the direction of various scenes. After taking into consideration the amount of time and effort the directions put into their feature film debut, it’s fortunate that the potentially disastrous “alternate” endings were scrapped -- particularly one which places the family at a picnic table that reeks of sappiness. The disc is rounded out with a music video for DeVotchKa’s “Till the End of Time.”

 - Kurtis Beard



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Distribution

20th Century Fox

Region 1 - NTSC

20th Century Fox

Region 'A' - Blu-ray




 

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