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Little Miss Sunshine

It's a safe bet that very few people in the indie film world think of Garth Books as a font of sage advice, but Little Miss Sunshine directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton probably agree with him on at least one point: Sometimes you thank God for unanswered prayers. The role of deadpan Proust scholar/suicide survivor Frank was originally written years ago for Bill Murray, and later, producers really wanted Robin Williams for the part. So when Steve Carell was ultimately cast, everyone was a little bit nervous — who was this guy, anyway? That question was resoundingly answered in the summer and fall of 2005 (after the movie filmed), when The 40-Year-Old Virgin stormed the box office and The Office became a bona fide TV hit. All of a sudden, Dayton and Faris had one of the country's favorite comic actors on their hands, and their little movie about a dysfunctional family's ill-fated road-trip from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, Calif., went on to become a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival and the box-office darling of summer 2006. Of course, all of Little Miss Sunshine's strong reviews and rave word-of-mouth recommendations can't be attributed solely to Carell. Michael Arndt's script is both poignant and hilarious, and the cast is uniformly strong. Joining Frank in the VW bus from Hell are Toni Collette as high-strung mom Sheryl Hoover (Frank's sister); Greg Kinnear as her relentlessly preachy wannabe self-help guru husband Richard; Alan Arkin as hard-living, uncensored Grandpa Edwin; Paul Dano as mute, brooding teen Dwane; and appropriately sunny Abigail Breslin as aspiring beauty pageant contestant Olive. It's for Olive's sake that the group hits the road in the first place: A last-minute opening in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant has her name on it, but only if she can get to California in a day and a half. Faster than you can say "I want to work for world peace," the whole crew has piled into the aforementioned VW and is tooling across the desert. Naturally, it's just one disaster after another — the clutch goes out, Richard's book deal teeters on the edge, Olive gets stranded at a gas station, etc. — but somehow the motley crew manages to stick together and stay focused on their goal. What they find when they finally get there is a whole other set of terrors, but to say more would be to give far too much away. What really matters is that the cast manages to take some very iffy characters and turn them into sympathetic people that we end up rooting for (even if we're not exactly sure why), and their appeal is the movie's bruised-but-cautiously optimistic heart. Little Miss Sunshine is the kind of movie that's made for DVD, and Fox delivers a nice package. The double-sided disc offers both anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and full-screen transfers, with English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (a Spanish Surround track and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are also available). Extras include trailers, a music video, a pair of commentaries — one is just Dayton and Faris; for the other, screenwriter Arndt joins them — and a series of four alternate endings with optional commentary. A couple of the other options are hilarious (particularly the ones involving the giant trophy), but in the end you're left feeling like they made the right call finishing the film where they did. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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