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Brazenly satirical and yet deeply human, this American road comedy introduces the Hoovers, one of the most endearingly fractured families in recent cinema history. They might not be the picture of perfect mental health, but when a fluke gets seven-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) invited to the fiercely competitive "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant in California, the entire family rallies behind her. They pile into their rusted-out VW bus and head West from Albuquerque on a three-day, tragicomic journey filled with madcap surprises and life-altering experiences. Starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano and Alan Arkin. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

 Where a Film Takes You

One of our main characters in Little Miss Sunshine is an aspiring motivational speaker who has developed his own Nine Step program for success (with such pearls of wisdom as “Refuse to lose” and “You’ve got to trust to be trusted”). In researching this role we thought we should experience someone in the field who is at the top of their game. Tony Robbins happened to be speaking in Los Angeles while we were in pre-production so we called up his “people” to see if they could arrange for us to see him speak.

We had no idea whether we would be allowed to sit in on his lecture. It was the lead off speech of a sold-out three-day Real Estate Wealth Expo sponsored by The Learning Annex. Two days before the event, Tony’s office called and said we were ‘in.’ We drove to the L.A. Convention Center and made our way through the gridlock to the backstage entrance. Tony’s assistant ushered us into the main exhibit hall crammed with over 46,000 go-getters. There was a main stage set up at the back of the hall and endless rows of folding chairs spread out across an area the size of two football fields. You can imagine the looks we got as we were brought out from back stage and seated in the first row directly in front of the stage.

The lights dimmed and a warm-up guy ran on stage to welcome the crowd. Twenty-five girls danced down the aisles dressed in tight black tank tops with FUN written in white block letters across their chests. The guy on stage kept challenging the crowd to scream louder while the FUN girls handed out $20 bills to audience members who showed the most enthusiasm. This was the mother lode for us, the ultimate chance to observe a world we might otherwise never witness. We glanced at each other in awe as we looked out at the sea of exuberant faces. It was at this point that we noticed the jumbotron TV screens placed throughout the hall and the live video cameras surrounding us. There we were two stories high, the only people not cheering, jumping or screaming.

Suddenly Tony was on the stage and the crowd reached new heights of hysteria. He quickly took control of the room like a professional athlete in a championship game. (To his credit, he immediately pointed out to the crowd that, FUN girls aside, money and wealth were not the chief components of success.)

One trademark of his seminars is the constant back and forth with an audience, like a one-on-one conversation. There just happened to be 46,000 of us on one end of the dialogue. He had the crowd jumping out of their seats, raising hands, greeting their fellow attendees, and jumping, lots of jumping, to an infectious beat. At first we were a little intimidated, but between the jumbotron screens and being in Tony’s direct line of sight, we realized there was no way for us to passively observe as we had intended. So up we went, letting go of any coolness we came in with. The truth is, by giving in and getting lost in the experience we were able to better understand this phenomenon. And like one of the nine steps in our film’s program for success, Tony demonstrated that “You’ve got to move to be moved.”