July 25, 2006

Movie “Miss Sunshine” aims to avoid Sundance curse

By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedy "Little Miss Sunshine," a
top movie from January's Sundance Film Festival, debuts in
theaters on Wednesday bringing with it the fear that the
"Sundance curse" may hurt it with mainstream audiences.

Husband-and-wife directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan
Dayton spent five years raising cash to make "Miss Sunshine"
with a "whatever-it-takes" zeal typical in indie moviemaking.

The pair won a fat $10 million-plus payday, but success
sometimes can be a curse for a Sundance hit if it is perceived
by everyday moviegoers as a highfalutin art film.

"There was a lot of fear about (the curse), but we've been
showing the film a lot and had the chance to talk to our
audience. I think we are close to overcoming that: 'so what's
so great about this Sundance hit,"' attitude, said Faris.

Sundance is the top U.S. film festival for movies made
outside Hollywood studios, and "Miss Sunshine" scored big
headlines this year when distributor Fox Searchlight acquired
it for the eye-popping sum some reports called a record.

Attention at Sundance brings a lot of publicity, which is
good, but many movies like 1999's "Happy Texas" also exited
Sundance with huge hype then bombed at box offices -- hence,
what is widely considered the "Sundance curse."

However, "Miss Sunshine" has several factors working in its
favor to beat the curse. Most important is its tale of a
family's cross-country journey that is so identifiable and easy
to follow it makes the idea of it being an art film seem like

The family's father, Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a self-help
guru with a 9-step program to success who can't get his book
published. His wife's belief in him is questionable. His shy
son won't talk. His elderly dad has a drug habit and his
brother-in-law is suicidal.

Then there is his daughter -- pudgy, bespectacled Abigail
-- who has an undying faith she can be a beauty queen.

When her chance to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine
pageant comes up, the family loads up the van and takes her to
California. Whether she wins or loses is beside the point.

"This movie celebrates the value of just doing something,"
said Faris.

"Miss Sunshine" is winning rave reviews from audiences in
early screenings in Hollywood, at festivals and from critics.
At website rottentomatoes.com, which aggregates reviews, it has
earned a 96 percent "fresh" rating.

"A brainy blend of farce and heart, this is one of those
movies that veteran moviegoers complain (the studios) don't
make anymore," wrote The Hollywood Reporter.

Finally, Fox Searchlight has a reputation for bringing
mainstream success to art-house films, as it did with 2004
comedy "Sideways," which won awards and earned $109 million at
box offices worldwide.