Monday, February 12, 2007

Oscarblogging, Year the Second, Part the Third: Slightly Amiss

Today: Little Miss Sunshine.

The mainstream press has a tendency to conflate quirkiness with a lack of sentimentality, and they're not at all mutually exclusive, as the movie is definitely both. I'm not surprised at its success, the way most people seem to be: it offers a very cushy family-oriented message while still maintaining its weirdness, which combination is designed to please many different kinds of audiences, in a manner that feels to me a little bit cheap and a little bit disingenuous.

But hey, it works. I liked the movie much better than the above paragraph makes it sound, mostly because of the very fine performances upon which it depends. Abigail Breslin, who I remember as being nightmarishly, cloyingly cute in Signs, has really come into her own here: she delivers a centered, honest performance on which the movie completely hinges. Her character, Olive, just is who she is—obviously the real theme of the film—and there's nothing else to her, no cuteness or falsity or presentation. Breslin (who's really eleven rather than seven, but hey, while you got it as a child actor, use it) is the movie's anchor. You understand perfectly why her family members love her, you understand how her complex influences are made manifest in her without overwhelming her. She's just a kid, an honest kid with honest, kidlike desires, and it makes sense that people want to accomodate them as best they can.

Greg Kinnear isn't very interesting to me. He's perfectly functional, but I can't recall ever being either blown away or really interested in him—though I'd welcome a contradiction there as long as it's not Fast Food Nation. In this, he's neither quite funny nor upsetting. He doesn't take on his extremes and embody them with enough power, and as such the character just came off as a little bit pointless, though the idea of his journey was interesting. Toni Collette, on the other hand, impresses me, because she tends to be cast in roles somewhat poorly scripted, or at least underdeveloped in writing, and always creates a full, complex, compelling character to fill that space. In the hands of a lesser actor her role would have been stereotypical and pointless, a character interesting only in the fact that she'd ever chosen to marry this stupid, boring, pointless jerk. But damn. And we gotta love the Paul Dano and Alan Arkin, the latter of whom I've probably failed to recognize on TV or in film on at least a dozen occasions, he's so omnipresent and such a chameleon.

Steve Carell proved his chops to me as an actor, an actor about whom I don't have to make distinctions like "comic actor," in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but I know for a lot of people, this was the revelation. And reasonably so; he's pretty bloody impressive. The relationship between Frank and his nephew Dwayne is touching, even though it's supposed to be, and as with several of the other actors, the gentle naturalism he displays in a film that tries to pimp its quirks is no mean feat. As Annie said, "I'm glad he got out of the Will Ferrell trap"; what this film does represent is Carell just being an actor, not compelled to push one particular skill or quirk. I'm looking forward to more.

The make-or-break, though, is Ms. Breslin, and I'm really bloody pleased about her Oscar nomination; I hope she wins, though I know she won't. If you didn't trust this kid, if you didn't see her simple pleasure and dedication in her pageant dance routine and her honest love for dirty granddaddy Alan Arkin, the quirky-treacly ending of the movie wouldn't work. I guess it still doesn't exactly, lacking as it does certain tenets of the real world outside the family bus—as I believe a Times reviewer pointed out (I can't remember which one, though I think it was A.O. Scott), it's not likely that a child like Olive would have come even as far as she did on the JonBenet circuit, and honestly that's only the beginning of the reality violations in place when we hit the pageant—but because I as an audience member felt as the other characters did about the child, I could accept its failings. Little Miss Sunshine is not as good as everybody says—it's not the underdog indie that should OBVIOUSLY win—but it's worth my time and I'm glad I saw it.


At 12:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm. You seem like a slightly overweight sad person who has no one commenting on your website and probably even less people commenting on your life. In a nutshell...pathetic. Have you ever stopped to take a brief gander at what it is you are doing? We're all watching you out here you little Aquarius you...It's just, what we're watching is the lonely life of a person who actually thinks they have the credentials to comment on poetry and movies. Your selection of 'My Cousin Vinny' as one of your all time favorites pretty much sank you sweetheart. Now why don't you leave the movies and poetry to the professionals, grab your red ink pen and grade some more 6th grade assignments. Good luck and keep up the good work!

At 8:17 AM, Blogger Ammegg said...

Y’know, I think I’m going to let this anonymous comment function go.

Thanks for reminding me why I blog under an alias, anon. It would be pretty disturbing if you had my real name at hand and managed to dig through all the information floating around about me on the internet simply so that you could compose a comment you considered as insulting as possible; it’s kind of a relief that you only had my Blogger profile.

And now, since I think we’re both agreed this conversation is not worth our time—yes?—onwards. I hope you find something to read that you enjoy.

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Rasha said...

dude, abigail breslin showed up in the ER at Seattle Grace this season with foster parents and serious bruises and gashes, including one on her arm that was sutured with a staple gun. She thinks she's a super-hero that feels no pain, and makes one of the best episodes this year on that show. Medical emergency ensues, true to form.

n-way, she awesome.

At 4:53 PM, Blogger Connor said...

I like that anonymous is able to make an utter ass of himself in a demonstration of how little he knows about you (or anything). If today was opposite day, he'd be batting 100.

Anyway. Have to leave work. Will respond via Little Miss Sunshine soon.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Connor said...

Yeah. I liked it a lot too. I don't know that what bugged you bugged me, but I see what you're saying.

My only question is how you relate (or how you think the press relates) quirkiness and sentimentality. I would think they'd move along different vectors, for the most part, why I ask.

But Breslin and Carell were awesome.


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