Mark Pellegrino in Little Surprises

I love this movie! Mark’s performance is magical. There’s so much emotion, but it’s funny too. I’d recommend watching Little Surprises if you can. If not, there are clips of most of Mark’s scenes on this page. Lots of spoilers, obviously!

Who’s in the movie?

Joe Jr (Sam Whipple), Pepper (Christine Cavanaugh) and Jack (Mark Pellegrino) are siblings. Their parents are Joe (Rod Steiger) and Ethel (Julie Harris). Ginger (Kelly Preston) is Joe Jr’s fiancée. Julian (Kenneth Moskow) is Pepper’s partner.

Setting the scene

Little Surprises takes place in the home of Joe Jr and Ginger the day before their wedding. The movie starts with Ginger stressing about the arrival of Joe’s parents. The doorbell rings — his parents are early, and she’s still vacuuming.

Ethel and Joe bustle in. Ethel tells Ginger to call her mom and Joe says he’s excited to meet his new daughter, but despite this, they both come across as unlikeable.

A second knock at the door is Pepper and Julian. Pepper says “cover me I’m going in,” taking the focus off Ginger and telling her parents things they won’t like about her relationship. Joe makes awkward prejudiced references that Julian plays off humorously with deadpan sarcasm.

Pepper mentions she’s invited their brother Jack, who she hasn’t seen in three years. Joe says he’s a little shit — that bodes well!

Jack just has a simple philosophy of life, Ginger — fuck everybody.


Joe Jr arrives home and tries unsuccessfully to please his curmudgeon father. This family is extremely dysfunctional!

Enter Jack

Jack arrives on a motorbike while the family is chatting outside. Joe Jr isn’t pleased Ginger has invited their brother but is happy to see Jack looks healthy — he’s been sober for nine months.

There’s a mixed reception for Jack. Ginger is excited, Joe is uninterested, Ethel is quietly welcoming, but Ginger’s reaction is most interesting of all.

Jack’s expression when he sees Ginger would affect anyone with a pulse. Holy cow!

Jack and Ginger

The celebration continues. While the others are dining outside — and Joe is offending everyone and complaining — Jack approaches Ginger in the kitchen.

It’s a beautiful scene. A sweet and tender moment that’s delivered perfectly. The chemistry is plain to see, but the encounter ends in frustration for both Jack and Ginger.

Jack heads outside where an increasingly intoxicated Joe is still being offensive. Jack walks away, laughing to himself after watching from the sidelines. He clearly doesn’t need to play happy families with this crew.

The pool

Later in the evening, everyone other than Joe and Ethel is relaxing by the pool. Julian, Joe Jr and Pepper strip off and jump in. Jack takes his jacket off and catches Ginger’s eye — she leaves.

Joe Jr follows Ginger, and she has a loud meltdown, which is heard by Pepper and Julian through the open bathroom window.

After Joe Jr heads to bed and Ethel shares a few unwelcome truths about the men in her family, Ginger heads out to the pool.

Men without fathers are dangerous. But men with fathers like theirs are worse.


Jack is hanging around the edges of the pool — Ginger invites him in.


Jack goes to talk to Joe Jr, not caring that he’s asleep.

Joe Jr looks a little confused, but Jack’s getting ready to drop the bomb. Jack and Ginger aren’t at fault. It’s just terrible timing and an unfortunate coincidence.

After blowing up at Jack, Joe Jr confronts Ginger.

I just talked to Jack. I know what’s going on now. And if you still want to get married tomorrow, I’d love that. And if you don’t, that’s okay too. I’ll go along with whatever you want. I hope you understand.

Joe Jr

Joe Jr seems like a sweet guy who doesn’t deserve to have everything fall apart, but maybe he ought to fight a little harder if he genuinely loves Ginger.

I hope you understand

Jack, on the other hand, doesn’t hold back the emotion. The way Mark plays him in this scene, in particular, is so powerful and raw. I’m not crying. You’re crying. Oh, wait, Jack’s crying!

As Jack walks away with tears running down his face, the ever-sensitive Joe walks out yelling at everyone.

The moment when Pepper hugs a sobbing Jack is heartbreaking.

Joe Jr has finally had enough of Joe’s abuse. When Joe starts ranting about Jack, Joe Jr tells him to pack his bags and leave.

You’re the only sane kid I got left. I mean. Don’t turn against me — Joe

You know what dad, all I’ve ever felt for you is love. But you don’t love anybody. So as far as your approval goes, I don’t need it! — Joe Jr


Julian is on the hunt for food after he returns from dropping Joe and Ethel at the airport. He brings the wedding cake in with birthday candles… we don’t find out how it ends, but we can guess what Jack and Joe wish for.


Little Surprises, which was directed by Jeff Goldblum, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 1995.

Where can I find it?

Little Surprises is one of several shorts on a DVD called Perverse Destiny Volume 2. It pops up on eBay, Amazon now and then.

Little Surprises Playlist

Watch all eleven clips on YouTube: Little Surprises Playlist.