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Archive for the tag “Little Miss Sunshine”


People love to take shots at Hollywood. “There are no good ideas,” they say. “The only way they can make money is to put a muscle dude in tights and film him beating up a green screen,” they say. Well, the knocks might be well-earned. If Hollywood drags poor Batman out one more time, he’ll be suing Gotham for negligence when his walker skids on some wet pavement and he busts a hip.

But the dirtiest of the dirty little secrets about Hollywood mojo has yet to come out. And it has nothing to do with Jennifer Lawrence naked. How does Hollywood make money? Hint: it’s not new ideas and bold innovation.

Here it is…

You ready?

No, you’re not. Just take a deep breath…

Okay, then. Here’s how Hollywood rakes in the cash.

By putting Steve Carell in a van and having him drive around.

I don’t mean like in real life. I have no idea what Steve Carell drives. It might be a van. Or maybe it’s a Prius. Or a horse-drawn chariot or some sort of sled powered by alien slug creature pedal power as in the little watched Hanna-Barbera cartoon “The Flintstones Eat Cave Mushrooms and Hallucinate About Space.” Real life Steve can drive whatever he wants.

But movie Steve Carell, that dude needs to ride in a van. Whatever else is going on in a film, putting Steve Carell in a van in a movie works really well. Little Miss Sunshine – about a family road trip in a Volkswagen van – came out in 2006, cost $8 million to make and grossed over $100 million.

Carell’s new movie is Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day. It’s been out for a month as of this writing, cost $28 million to make and has so far grossed $78 million. No road trip in this one, but lots of driving around in a minivan while family hijinks ensue.

The similarities between these films don’t end there… (Since Alexander is relatively new, I’ll try not to be hugely spoilery about it. Still, mind your step…)

1. In Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day (Phew. Let’s just call it ALEXANDER), there is a defined “destination”: Mom, Dad, brother, sister, and Alexander all have stuff that’s got to get done and places everyone needs to be before Alexander’s birthday party. In Little Miss Sunshine (LMS), the family has to get from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, CA by 3:00 Sunday so Olive can dance in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant.

2. In ALEXANDER the minivan…well, it sustains some suburban battle scars. In LMS, the van loses its clutch, horn and side door.

3. In ALEXANDER, Carell’s character is, literally, a rocket scientist. But now he’s unemployed, trying to stay upbeat for his family. In LMS, Carell is the “#1 Proust scholar in the country”‘ but now he’s unemployed…and suicidal, but he does say lots of inspiring and funny things.

4. In ALEXANDER, the family watches in horror from the audience as one of their own makes a fool of themselves on stage. In LMS, The family watches in horror from the audience as Olive busts a move to “Super Freak” on stage.

5. ALEXANDER features an inappropriate dance routine by a trio of male strippers – The Thunder Down Under. LMS? See Superfreak.

6. In ALEXANDER, the Mom blows a big assignment at work. Dad flubs a big job interview. In LMS, Richard Hoover loses a book deal for his 9 step motivational program.

7. In ALEXANDER, the sister gets loopy on cough syrup. In LMS, Grandpa snorts heroin.

8. In ALEXANDER, Carell is beaten by a kangaroo, nearly eaten by a crocodile, and set on fire. In LMS, he’s suicidal.

9. In ALEXANDER, the brother is primed to drive his date – the “hottest girl in school” – to prom  as the high point of his life, but loses the tux and flunks his driving test. In LMS, the brother, Dwayne, has one goal in life – to fly jets – only to discover he’s color blind, meaning he can’t fly.

10. In ALEXANDER, the family comes together in the end and realize that’s all that matters. In LMS, well you know…

Eerie, huh? They’re kind of the same movie. Throw in Iron Man and you’d have quintessential Hollywood as we know it.

Drive on, Steve Carell, you magnificent bastard. Drive on.



I’m an old school gamer. In the old days of Donkey Kong and Frogger and Pitfall, if you wanted to keep your guy ( it was almost always a guy) from dying in the video game, you had to get through the jungle/maze/whatever and grab some sort of “health” pellet. When you did, you’d be relieved to see the blinking remnant of life surge back up to a full length far of lively-lifeness.

For writers, going to a conference is kind of like finding a health pellet.

I just got back from my annual trip to the Missouri Writers Guild conference. It’s a little bit of a drive for me, but I go every year because it’s one of the few times I get to spend time, in groups and one-on-one, with industry insiders like editors, agents and publishers to talk about the writing craft in general and sometimes my work specifically. It’s awesome.

Going to conferences like this are also great at reminders you are not the only weirdo who isn’t content just reading stories. It’s a hotel full of people as obsessed as you with creating arcs and beats and word counts and plots and story.

Last year’s was notable because the hotel we were at was hosting not just writers, but also a child’s beauty pageant ala “Little Miss Sunshine” and a convention of people who make and display miniature doll house furniture. No houses, mind you; just the furniture. Makes sense. Everyone knows doll house builders are dorks. (Kidding! Not kidding! Okay, kidding…please don’t hurt me with your tiny chairs.)

Every year, I’m struck by the variety of backgrounds the attendees come from. This year didn’t disappoint. There was the newspaper reporter who yearns to write fiction, the twenty-something who has pared down his lifestyle to such a degree he can live on what he makes from 2-3 hours a day of work (writing freelance articles) so he can devote the rest of his time to writing tales in the vein of old Norse mythology. I met a retired judge and his wife who travels around showing horses. There was also a cardiologist who quit to be a writer and lots of retirees.

Then there was a college professor and part-time children’s entertainer, who I talked to at the same time as the barbershop quartet singer. The professor, it turns out, has always wanted to be in a barbershop quartet! (Math geeks, calculate me the odds of meeting ONE, let alone TWO, people into barbershop at the same time and place.) They actually started harmonizing right there in the hall between workshops. It was surreal.

That’s the best part of these conferences: you never quite know what you’ll get or who will there. And everyone is supportive of this weird thing you’ve dedicated yourself to. Some of them are already published, some are wannabes, some are never-wills. But all love the written word and those who put those words out there.

Looking forward to 2015!


I have four favorite movies.

There’s this one:


This one:

The Big Lebowski

This one:


And, of course, this one:

Little Miss Sunshine

If you don’t happen to share my movie taste, here they are: Sideways, The Big Lebowski, Wonderboys and Little Miss Sunshine. There are a lot of other movies I like, of course, but these four are the ones I come back time after time for regular viewings. I know the plots inside and out, memorized huge chunks, but never tire of them.

In thinking about this, I was recently struck by how incredibly similar these movies are. Sideways, part comedy/part drama about two friends on a road trip testing the bounds of their friendship while dealing with personal demons – alcohol, mid-life crises, love troubles. The Big Lebowski, part comedy/part drama (okay mostly comedy) about three friends testing the bounds of their friendship while dealing with personal demons – bowling, doing the right thing, and, uh,  a pee-stained rug (it really tied the room together). Wonderboys, part comedy/part drama about three friends testing the bounds of their friendship while dealing with personal demons – writer’s block, the pressure of high expectations, professional failure. And Little Miss Sunshine which finds a hugely dysfunctional family dealing with their own individual problems while also coming back together as a family.

Two of the movies – Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine – feature roadtrips. All four take place on a finite timeline. Sideways and Wonderboys both take place over a weekend. The Sideways road trip takes a week. The Big Lebowski doesn’t really have a calendar time line, but the plot builds to a climax (finding the rug and/or the Dude’s stolen car and/or the nihilist kidnappers.)

These movies are a lot alike. A LOT. So much so that it must mean something that out of all the movies I’ve seen and enjoyed, all the movies I’ve been preoccupied watching when they come on cable, these are the four I come back, analyze, dwell on. I even got the shooting script for Little Miss Sunshine just so I could better analyze the dialogue.

Why? Why these four? What do these selections say about me?

Does it matter? Probably not.

But I still wonder.


What does your list of favorite movies say about you?

As anyone who tries to shop for me will tell you (in frustrated, gritted-teeth tones), I have wide-ranging tastes in movies, books, and music. I think this is good. It should make it easier to find something I’ll like. Others aren’t so sure.

However, friends and family might be relieved by the realization I had a while back that my favorite movies have a lot of common themes.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093748/ – Steve Martin as an uptight stiff and John Candy as the bigmouth buffoon thrown together on Thanksgiving on a cross-country road trip. An unlikely friendship is forged even as the world seems to conspire against their getting home. Martin as Neil Page: “Those aren’t pillows!” Hilarious.
  • Little Miss Sunshine – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0449059/ – Patriarch Greg Kinnear and suicidal brother-in-law Steve Carrell drive cute little 7-year-old Abigail Breslin and the rest of their dysfunctional family from New Mexico to California in a VW van with no clutch so she can compete in the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant.  Lots of humor, but some very touching family stuff too. Carrell as Frank: “I was the #1 Proust scholar in the US.” Kinnear as Richard Hoover: “Everyone just pretend we’re normal.”
  • Sideways – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0375063/ – Paul Giamatti’s Miles and Thomas Haden Church’s Jack are lost, emotionally-stunted, middle-aged men on one last road trip through wine-country to celebrate Jack’s impending marriage and the hoped-for publication of Miles’s novel. These characters teeter on the line between funny and pathetic. It’s a testament to the actors’ skill that we root for them and that the movie so successfully weaves flat-out humor with some really nice friendship stuff. Jack: “If they want to drink merlot, we’re drinkin’ merlot.” Miles: “No way am I drinking any f-ing merlot!”
  • Wonderboys – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0185014/ – During the weekend of “Wordfest” at a small liberal arts college, pot-head, one-hit novelist professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas), eccentric writing student James Leer (Tobey Maguire) and washed-up book editor Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.) end up taking a hard look at where they are in life and where they really want to be. Another movie that expertly weaves the humor with the poignant. Tripp:”I’m your teacher, James. I’m not a Holiday Inn.”

I love these movies. I watch them all faithfully at least once a year and look forward to doing so the rest of the year. I have other favorties. There’s a whole set of holiday films I always watch at Christmas. There are others that I will always stop to watch on cable when I channel surf: Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Star Trek. But these four movies are the ones I always come back to; the ones I look forward to watching all year. These are the ones I think about the most and can quote from the most.

So, what does that say about me? I dunno. But I think what it says is that I’m drawn to road-trip movies for one. Three out of the four center on some kind of road trip. I can see that. You really get to know a person – see them at their best and worst when confined together on a train or in a car, when you don’t have the normal distractions of daily life to act as a buffer between the two of you. There is huge potential for humor and drama there and these movies play that expertly. The geographical journey is  a metaphor for the emotional one and somehow that just resonnates. Go figure.

The other commonality between these four movies is exploration of friendship and self-identity. All these characters have their opinions about themselves and their opinions about their friends/families tested. I think that’s healthy. We can get bogged down in the detritus of life.  I think it’s good once in a while to step back and reassess what’s good and not so good in your relationships and use that to grow. Characters in movies have to grow and change or there’s no story. People in life have to grow or change or there’s no, well, life.

So what are your favorite movies? What do they say about you?


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