Newscom (2006)
Collette aims to avoid "Sundance" curse
July 2006
Toni Collette's comedy Little Miss Sunshine, a top movie from January's Sundance Film Festival, debuts in US theatres tomorrow, 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 $US10 million-plus ($13.2m) 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 US 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 roadkill.

The family's father, Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a self-help guru with a nine-step program to success who can't get his book published. His belief in him by his wife Sheryl (Collette) 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, which aggregates reviews, it has earned a 96 per cent "fresh" rating. "A brainy blend of farce and heart, this is one of those movies that veteran moviegoers complain (the studios) don't make any more," wrote The Hollywood Reporter.

Collette described the script by Michael Arndt, in an interview with, as "amazing". "It was just so clear. And I know Iíve said it before, but Iím lazy. I just do things that I relate to and I know that Iím going to be able to do it. "Everyone wants to emulate something else thatís already been successful and doesnít give something brilliant like this its own shot. And maybe this will help other filmmakers. Who knows. Itís rare, but in a way itís good that itís rare because otherwise if every film was like this Ö ". 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 $US109 million at box offices worldwide.

Little Miss Sunshine opens in Australia on October 26.