Tag Archives: Bryan Cranston

Little Miss Sunshine

This is my jam. A movie I can watch again and again and it never gets old. It’s well-constructed and absorbing and there’s always some small detail to catch and enjoy.

The Hoovers are having a hard time. Sheryl brings her suicidal brother Frank to her home where he’s scarcely the most damaged. Frank (Steve Carell) has just been rejected by his lover and is suffering from acute profession angst as he watches his rival in Proustian studies get recognized while his own work languishes. Sheryl (Toni Collette) takes him in but barely has a thought to spare for him, poor guy, no matter how fresh the bandages on his wrists are. Her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) has a self-help technique for attaining success that nobody wants. He’s a loser, and his starry-eyed MV5BNTUyNzk4NjA0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTYzNDA2MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1526,1000_AL_confidence is waning by the minute. Their teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano) has taken a vow of silence. He can’t wait to leave his family behind to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot. Dwayne’s grandpa Edwin (Alan Arkin) has just been kicked out of his retirement residence for selling (and taking) drugs. The family’s a mess, and Sheryl’s beginning to feel emotionally bankrupt, so it’s under these circumstances that the family rallies around its youngest member, Olive (Abigail Breslin). Olive may be an unlikely candidate for the beauty pageant circuit but she’s an enthusiastic one. On a whim, the family decides to leave their troubles behind and hit the road from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, California, in pursuit of little Olive’s dream of pageant glory.

Little Miss Sunshine is about dreams, and I guess, their inverse – illusions.  This family of fuck ups needs so badly for one goddamned thing to go right. But for some of us, happiness, or contentment, needs to be found in small moments of unity. Triumph found in trying. Not everyone is a winner at life, and that’s what makes this film so funny, and so heart breaking. It’s what makes it feel real despite some increasingly absurd twists of fate.

Family dynamics are made clear to us during a long scene around a bucket of KFC. My goodness. Toni Collette has long been a favourite of mine but she’s determined with each performance to win me over again, astonishing me with her willingness to let ego go and embrace the honest dregs of each character. Steve Carell was an unknown when they cast him, and producers worried that he wasn’t famous enough to help their little movie along. But in the short time between filming and the movie’s release, Carell burst onto the scene in a star-making turn in the 40 Year Old Virgin, and then introduced himself to all of America as everyone’s favourite boss on The Office. He is quiet and introspective in Little Miss Sunshine, but his underplayed pain and ennui have a presence that take up space in the family’s forever breaking down VW bus. Little Abigail Breslin did not make her acting debut in Little Miss Sunshine (she was in 2002’s Signs) but she did become the first person born in the 90s to get a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for her role; she was 10 at the time. She lost but Alan Arkin won in his category. His snatching of the Oscar from Mark Wahlberg was the only one of 5 categories that The Departed lost that night.

This family’s dysfunction is perhaps a little more urgent and layered than most, but almost everyone can see a slice of their own family somewhere in this script. We laugh, we cry, we have a good time, and we leave better people because we’ve witnessed someone’s pain and empathized.

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That Thing You Do!

Imagine Tom Hanks on the whirlwind press tour for Forrest Gump. He’s tired of talking about himself all day long. He needs to recharge his creative juices. So what does Tom Hanks do? He spends a month doing press junkets by day and writing a script while eating room service in his hotel room every night. The pages were probably stained with ketchup.

That Thing You Do! was born unto us. It’s about a band of young dudes in 1964 who experience fame for the first time as their pop song rises up the charts. Band-467It’s sweet and wholesome and damn if that song wasn’t catchy – it even got played on our 1996 radio waves for a brief blip in time. Real 60s music was too expensive (and it had been done well and to death in Forrest Gump, thought Hanks) so it was cheaper just to have stuff written. That Thing You Do! was the result of a competition for a “faux-Beatles” song, and it was Adam Schlesinger, the bass player from Fountains of Wayne, who won. When you hear the song in the movie (and BOY do you hear the heck out of that song in the movie!- 11 different times, and the song went on to be nominated for an Oscar but lost to You Must Love Me from Evita), the actors aren’t really playing, but they could have been. Tom Everett Scott, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry and Jonathan Schaech all learned to play their instruments, and learned every note of every song that appeared in the movie.

Charlize Theron appears in the movie as an early groupie of the band: it was 2only her second movie credit. Tom Hanks auditioned her and knew instantly that she’d be famous one day. She was the first person he auditioned, and the first person he cast.”No matter what, I will always claim to have discovered you” he wrote in her script. She won her first Oscar in 2004.

Tom Everett Scott almost didn’t get the part because Hanks thought he looked too much like Hanks. The crew nick-named him Tom Junior and before every take Hanks would remind him “Don’t do it like me!” – but you know what saved him? Tom’s wife, Rita Wilson, thought he was cute.

Speaking of which, when we saw Tom Hanks at the Tribeca Film Festival, he said that this was the movie he was most proud of, because his whole family 2205573,9QsfDywp4n5t1ZzuCiZFMx1wAtqhZbnzpd6pe701UzN1Em+3vDb9zfon3uv_jNxJfz3ogxTr3jHE26akqhRXcA==showed up to work on it. Wife Wilson appears as a cocktail waitress, but Hanks was so tired from pulling 19-hour days the day she showed up on set, he didn’t even recognize her, merely noting that she was “an attractive lady” and he hoped she’d be nice to him. His son Colin also briefly appears in the film, and his daughter Elizabeth even brieflier. Unrelated but also of note: keep your eye out for Bryan Cranston playing an astronaut, and Jonathan Demme playing the director of a major motion picture.

So yes. Tom Hanks wrote, directed, and co-starred in this movie, and even composed some of the music (surprise! He’s also a drummer in his spare time). It was Sean Penn who encouraged him to direct (they were trick or treating with their kids at the time), saying it would ultimately make him a better actor.that-thing-you-do-whysoblu-7

Tom Hanks’ favourite part? Bruce Springsteen once told him that he nailed the scene when the band first hears their music played on the radio. And really, how much better of an endorsement can you get?