“The object of a question is to obtain information that matters to us, and no one else.”
- Sean Connery as William Forrester in "Finding Forrester"

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Film Reviews: Crash & Little Miss Sunshine

Having finally seen all 5 of the Best Picture nominees, I can honestly say that Crash was certainly the most deserving.

Also winning for Editing and a fantastic Original Screenplay - along with nominations for Supporting Actor (Matt Dillon), Director (Paul Haggis), and Song (In the Deep) - Crash offers a deeper look at the lives of a diverse group of people whose paths cross in L.A. during the course of a few fateful winter days.

The DA (Brendan Fraser) and his wife (Sandra Bullock) are car-jacked; the thieves (Ludacris & Larenz Tate) hit an old man; while searching for the stolen car, two cops (Dillon & Ryan Phillippe) pull over and molest a television director and his wife (Terrence Howard & Thandie Newton); a shop owner is vandalized and goes after the man who changed his locks; and an investigator (Don Cheadle) fights with his partner/girlfriend (Jennifer Esposito) while working a case and trying to find his criminal brother.

Crash is a film about prejudice, stereotyping, and trying to live into who you are instead of who everyone says you are. As the plot unfolds, the audience quickly makes judgments about the characters based on their speech, their actions, and their ethnicities. We assume what will happen next based on past actions. But what we soon realize is that these lives are not at all what they at first seemed.

The first line says so much about the film to follow:

It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.
In a world where everyone is rushing around, looking out only for themselves, the characters are numb to those around them. They see what they want to see; they see what is convenient to see. But the film challenges them, and by extension us, to look deeper, to consider that their lives are more than just the color of their skin.

At the beginning, each character lives on the surface. But as the cameras take us into their homes we find another side. Some have a smooth polish for their public selves, while others are more compassionate than they first appear to be. Different situations, different circumstances dictate our identities. Greatly divergent sides of our personalities come out depending on the whens, wheres, and whats we face. If we spend our lives avoiding real interactions we will lose sight of the humanity of those around us, and our own, until we crash into each other and are reminded of that which is real.
And now for something completely different.

For a fun diversion, I headed out to the only theater in town playing Little Miss Sunshine. Starring Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, and Greg Kinnear, this film is a touching story about family that tells us, no matter how messed up things get, we're in this thing together.

After attempting suicide, Frank (Carell) - the #1 Proust scholar in the world - goes to live with his sister's family to be watched as he recovers. There he finds an unsuccessful motivational speaker (Kinnear) for a father, a voluntarily mute teenager (Dano), a heroin/sex addict grandfather (Arkin), and a hopeful child beauty queen (Breslin).

Upon receiving a message that the winner of a child pageant was forced to step down, little Olive, as the runner up, is given the opportunity to be in the Little Miss Sunshine competition in two days. After much arguing, the family loads into their old VW bus and begins their wild road trip to southern California. Along the way, hilarity ensues as the family turns on each other and unexpected obstacles get in their way.

Though it seems as though no one can quite reach their goals no matter how great their efforts, as Grampa reminds them, a loser is someone who is so afraid of losing that he doesn't even try. You're a winner because you try.

This movie has an independent film feel to it but it has a great heart to it followed up by some excellent writing and performances. Of particular note, given Steve Carell's comedic genius and the fact the Paul Dano doesn't talk for most of the film, they share glances throughout that say so much without saying anything.

See it. You won't be disappointed.