Little Miss Millions (1993): Jim Wynorski’s Surprisingly Family-Friendly Xmas

In the interest of spreading festive cheer, Matty gives the thumbs-up to the cult helmer’s nifty pre-teen caper.

Considered by Jim Wynorski to be among his best, the Roger Corman-produced LITTLE MISS MILLIONS is certainly in the upper echelons of the prolific maestro’s meaty resume; a sweet-natured anomaly amidst wild horror flicks Chopping Mall (1986) and 976-EVIL II (1991), and primo T&A a la Sorceress (1995). While criticism could be levelled at its leisurely pace — another anomaly for the generally rather rambunctious Wynorski — by and large, this quirky family flick is a real joy; it’s a yuletide road movie for the ten to thirteen demographic expertly poised between chuckles and drama that doesn’t talk down to its target audience. Instead, Wynorski treats them as equals, presenting a world that’s at once cute and pre-teen friendly but still extremely honest, the helmer refusing to sugar coat such darker topics as abandonment, personal unrest, and bereavement.  

Also known as ‘Home For Christmas’, Howard Hesseman stars as a private detective hired to track Jennifer Love Hewitt’s twelve year-old runaway, who’s shunned her life of imprisoned luxury with her nasty adoptive mother (Anita Morris) in favour of finding her real mum (Terri Treas). Initially at odds with the youngster, the curmudgeonly dick soon begins to thaw as the two travel across the country, evading a pair of bumbling cops (James Avery and Robert Fieldsteel, essentially reprising their roles from Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991) — a project Wynorski was famously diddled out of directing) and encountering a gaggle of kooks (all of whom are played by Wynorski regulars like Toni Naples, Ace Mask, and a Jackie Gleeson-channelling Peter Spellos) along the way.

Amusingly scripted by Wynorski and longtime writing partner R.J. Robertson, improv king Hesseman has a ball riffing with their sparky, rat-a-tat dialogue. It’s Hewitt, though, who steals the show. Smart, sassy, and demonstrating natural comic flair, watching Little Miss Millions makes it clear that the future Ghost Whisperer was destined for the big leagues. Wynorski sure thought so: he conceived the film, which the cine-literate auteur waggishly describes as “a sort of father-daughter version of It Happened One Night (1934)”, especially for Hewitt after being deeply impressed by her performance in his previous, more famous but nowhere near as good family romp, Munchie (1992).

Crisply shot by Wynorski stalwart Zoran Hochstatter and gifted a plucky score by Joel Goldsmith (listen for that cheeky It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) nod at the end), Little Miss Millions was made in and around LA during the summer 1991 heatwave (my sympathies to those extras stood around in thick winter coats, sweating their proverbials off) and hit US video in September 1993 before becoming a mid-’90s staple on the USA Network every December. Criminally, it never got a physical release here in the UK.

USA ● 1993 ● Comedy, Family ● 90mins

Howard Hesseman, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Anita Morris, James Avery ● Dir. Jim WynorskiWri. R.J. Robertson & Jim Wynorski

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