Mychael Danna/DeVotchka & various artists,
Little Miss Sunshine
(Lakeshore, 2006)

There's just something about that little family that could, however dysfunctional they may be, that makes Fox Searchlight's low-budget Little Miss Sunshine a pleasurable treat to watch time and time again. And the same can be said of its soundtrack, which comfortably complements the easygoing nature of the film's family, a unit endlessly trying to break free of the constant cycle of defeat.

And nowhere is it more evident -- this urgency to finally succeed -- than in the film's unofficial theme and album's premiere track, "The Winner Is," by Mychael Danna/DeVotcka. The track, a vocals-free and slightly watered-down version of DeVotchka's "How it Ends," is nothing short of beautiful, combining violins, cellos, piano, steady drumbeat and even accordion into a musical masterpiece.

But I'm at a loss when describing the movements of this gorgeous track, which build on each other, then recede slightly, but always find a way to connect one to the next. I'll admit I've listened to it about a dozen times now, to pinpoint how exactly the track represents the film's family, but sadly can't. What can be said, however, is that the 15-second violin and cello combination -- coupled with drums in the track's final minute -- perfectly captures what urgency would sound like.

More interesting, though, is finally being exposed to DeVotchka's similar "How it Ends," whose message completely contrasts with what "The Winner Is" assumed at the soundtrack's beginning. With lyrics now layered atop the musical medley, "How it Ends" is about death, the routine and, if anything, the familiar. Not trying to ruin the film's ending here, but the track vividly, and accurately, represents the family's final social standing..

Except for a pair of Sufjan Stevens tracks, the remainder of the soundtrack is mainly Danna/DeVotchka. Though these other songs fail to reach the near-perfection of "The Winner Is" and "How it Ends," they still convey exactly what they should: a musical representation of a cross-country road trip, which for the unfamiliar is the setting for most of the film. The tracks have a lazy-day feel to them, with slow guitar strums and laidback vocals.

Two exceptions, though, are Tony Tisdale's "Catwalkin'" and Rick James' "Superfreak," which act as background noise in the film's beauty pageant finale. They shouldn't be, and really aren't, included in the family portrait the soundtrack succeeds in creating.

In the end, Danna and Devotchka were a wonderful choice to capture the essence of the family's dysfunction, troubles and especially urgency.

review by
Eric Hughes

21 July 2007

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