We gave it a B+
It seems strange to have Little Miss Sunshine codirectors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris contribute two commentaries (one by themselves, one with writer Michael Arndt). But when it takes four years to get the green light for a film about the most dysfunctional family since the Tenenbaums road-tripping from New Mexico to California so that 7-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) can compete in a beauty pageant, you apparently have a lot to talk about.
The filmmakers say they ”had to fight for everything,” so you’d expect to hear every war waged with the suits. Don’t. While they detail a few hard-won battles — did the opening song have to be so somber, and couldn’t they trim that 12-minute character-defining dinner scene to get on the road faster? — no one explains which argument escalated to the point that Arndt was fired from the film long before cameras rolled. (Our theory for why he was rehired: No other writer had experienced his own Sunshine-like childhood road trip in a VW bus that had lost its clutch.)
The commentaries at least acknowledge one thing — it’s tough to maintain a sense of realism when dealing with passionate characters and extreme situations. Sometimes they got it right: choosing not to throw a certain dead body out of a third-story window; having real pageant contestants supply their own costumes and spray-tan machines. Sometimes they were just wrong: Who knew audiences would mistake the ”biker dad” sitting solo at the pageant for a pedophile?