During a summer full of gigantic blockbusters, huge stars and massive special effects, Little Miss Sunshine swept its way into my life like a breath of fresh air. By far my favorite film of the year so far, Sunshine delivers in every way possible. From its near-perfect script to the outstanding performances from its cast, this little ray of light will travel real far ... if people actually go see it. And, trust me, they should.
After finding out she's been accepted as a contestant in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, young Olive's entire dysfunctional family decides to band together and go on a cross-country trek, via an old-school VW bus, with only a couple days left before the show. Oh, but that's just the set up. The film's about so much more.
This past Monday, I had the pleasure of attending the press junket for Little Miss Sunshine, hosted by those friendly folks over at Fox Searchlight. For those of you who don't know much about how these things work, the junket was divided into three separate conference rooms, each with a table that can fit roughly ten people. Though the film's big stars were absent (Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell and Toni Collette), Sunshine's directors (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) and the remainder of its cast (Alan Arkin, Paul Dano and Abigail Breslin) were on hand to answer whatever questions were thrown their way.
We'll have our review of Little Miss Sunshine later this month, as well as my one on one interview with actor Paul Dano. For now, I'll just give you a little recap of the morning's festivities and, hopefully, a sneak peak at what to expect from what, in my opinion, is this summer's sleeper hit.p>About five minutes after taking my seat at the table, I realized I was the only one wearing a building pass right smack in the middle of my shirt. See, I wasn't aware of how uncool the whole building pass on a shirt thing was at a press junket. Well, apparently, it wasn't cool, as no one else had theirs on. However, I kept mine visible so that, in case anyone was wondering what my name was, they could simply look over and read ERIK DAVIS in big, bold lettering.
First up in our room was Paul Dano, who plays Dwayne (an anger-fueled, Nietzsche-reading teen) in the film. Paul was a great kid, down-to-earth and extremely personable. Seeing as we'll be posting my full-length interview with him later this month, I'll hold back from telling you anymore about him. Though, for the record, he despises fast food and is totally pumped up about his role in Spike Jonze's upcoming Where the Wild Things Are.
Following Paul were actors Alan Arkin and little miss sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin (pictured above). In the film, Arkin plays the family's porn-loving, heroin-addicted grandfather. Consistently grumpy and full of expletives, Grandpa survives each day by bonding with his granddaughter and teaching her how to shine at her next beauty pageant.
During our round-table discussion, Arkin admitted he wasn't familiar with Steve Carell's work prior to the film. In fact, none of the cast really knew who he was, seeing as production on the film took place before Carell crashed onto the scene with The 40 Year Old Virgin. When asked who his favorite comedic talent was, Arkin quickly shot out the name Eddie Izzard. Yes, Alan Arkin is a huge Eddie Izzard fan.
Arkin also spoke about his, and the rest of the cast's hesitation to work with a first-time director, let alone two of them. However, he says, "We all felt the script was so good that we had to do the script and we took a chance." On Dayton and Faris as directors (who, mind you, are also husband and wife), Arkin gushed: "They were always available. They were like one person: They think the same way, they feel the same way ... everyone was on the same page with the film. You could see it. You could feel it."
As far as little Abigail Breslin goes, well, there are no words to describe how adorable this girl is. Bright and intelligent, she seemed to have a ball with the film. When asked whether she felt intimidated working with older actors, she says, "I've only ever done a few movies with kids in it, so I didn't really feel intimidated." She also admitted to being a huge American Idol fan. In fact, there's one scene where the whole family is fighting on the bus, using expletives and talking about sex. In the film, Abigail's character is wearing headphones, listening to music and unaware of what anyone is saying. Turns out, she really was listening to music -- Kelly Clarkson to be exact. And never actually heard what anyone was saying until after they screened the film.
Following Arkin and Breslin were Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (pictured right). After spending several years directing music videos for folks like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M., Dayton and Faris fell in love with the script for Little Miss Sunshine and, though it would take years to finally make, were passionate about the project and determined to get it done.
Dayton says, "When we read (Little Miss Sunshine), we knew this was the project for us because it wasn't a music video director's piece, it was hopefully what you would not expect and we were really excited about taking it on and knowing that the performances would be the challenge and not some visual trickery."
According to Faris, "It's a movie about the contests of life. The beauty pageant was a really clear context to put this beautiful little girl, ya know, in contrast to these girls that are thought to be beautiful." Dayton added, "It was very important that this not be a movie about (beauty) pageants. It's more about being out of place, about not knowing where you're going to end up."
Personally, I hope Little Miss Sunshine ultimately ends up on a list of nominees at next year's Academy Awards. It truly deserves it.