Little Miss Sunshine Theme Essay


Family can be a source of support, comfort, optimism, love and happiness, but family can also be a cause of depression, betrayal, hurt and pain. Family is not always determined by the having the same DNA running through one’s veins but it is the bond that people can have with one another. Family can consist of friends, co-workers, classmates, a community or a group of other people. Some family members can be the worst enemies because they have the most ammunition of secrets to bring a relative down. Being able to trust a person, depend on them, and be carefree is a person that can be valued as being a part of a family. In the movie Little Miss Sunshine, their dysfunctional family is loving, supportive, optimistic as well as motivating.

The movie is filled with dark humor about a modern middle-class family that is about to encounter financial catastrophe but in the midst of their struggles they still find the beauty in life.

In the opening of the movie Richard, the father is giving a motivational speech about winning, he states “There are two types of people in this world, winners and losers”. Richard is a protagonist motivational speaker that is obsessed with winning. He is so consumed with achieving that he ridicules his family for not being perfect throughout the film. Sheryl is the mother who is an optimist, she is always giving words of encouragement even when Richard is trying to bring his family down and she is all about honest. Frank is the brother of Sheryl whom at the beginning attempts to commit suicide due to a broken heart and losing his standing as America’s pre-eminent Proust Scholar. Dwayne is the son of Richard and Sheryl and is committed to being in the air force. He is so committed that he takes a vow of silence until he gets into the air force, but then finds out he is colored blind and breaks his silence. Olive is another protagonist character in the film, she is the daughter of Frank and Sheryl and has dreams of becoming a beauty queen. Grandpa is Olive’s beauty queen pageant coach and is a late in life convert to heroine and porn, he eventually dies from a drug overdose. Main themes within the film are irony, issues of struggling to be perfect with the trials and set backs as a middle class family as well as exposing beauty pageants for little girls in America.

Irony is a main theme in the movie because the roles each character plays contradicts who they are trying to be. Richard is all about motivating others to win and pushing his “9 steps to Success” however ironically he is unsuccessful in his motivational speeches. In the opening scenes Richard is giving his “9 Steps to Success” lecture to a class of no more than 4 or 5 students and his steps to success are denied because no one knows who he is. Olive’s character also shows irony because she is an overweight, unfashionable 7 year old that is competing in glamor beauty pageants. Grandpa is in late adulthood but is acting as though he is in the stages of early adulthood by doing drugs instead of watching out for his health to prolong his life. Dwayne is showed to be working out and lifting at the beginning of the movie like as if he is a pro-athlete but is very slender and pale. Throughout the film the irony within each character and the masks they wore changed for the better.

Issues of struggling in the film for this middle class family shows how they are on the verge of a financial catastrophe. Richard was so invested in his contract for his steps to success and depended on that source of income only to find out his contract was cancelled. The Hoover’s van breaks down multiple times and has many issues, such as the horn constantly honking. The family also did not have the money to go to California but made the trip anyway to chase Olive’s dream that would may come true. Even after the pageant financial burdens await them with the transportation of grandpa’s corpse and the costs for a funeral. With all the struggles this family endures the characters ways of thinking changed into optimistic views of life.

Little Miss Sunshine was the beauty pageant that Olive was competing in and when the family arrived they realized that the Olive did not contain the glamor and elegance of the other contestants. This film displayed the process in which the little girls had to go through to fulfil the image of a beauty pageant queen. In the middle of the film Olive orders ice cream for breakfast and Richard lectures her about her way of eating and that beauty pageant winners do not eat ice cream so that way they can look thin and win. During the pageant Olive shows her talent of dancing and the judges are offended, the crowd is disgusted and the host of the pageant attempts to get her off stage all because she does not fulfill the image of what society says a beauty pageant contestant should look like. But after Olive’s performance Richard then compliments her for doing such a great job and that her grandpa would have been proud of her. Richard realizes that his daughter is who she is and is proud to know that she tries her best in all she does and enjoys herself.

Assessing the family one can determine that they have yet to achieve homeostasis. The family system as a whole shows that they are unable to maintain a stable constant state of balance financially however they are able to achieve this with their family structure. An example of the strong structure in this family system is having dinner with everyone present at the table, even Dwayne though he holds his vow of silence. Boundaries within the family system are set by Richard and most of the time it is him against everyone else. Subsystems include the brother Frank, the children Olive and Dwayne and grandpa. Each member has a role to play where Sheryl’s role is the most important because she is matriarch of the family, she is what holds the family together with her optimism and encouragement.

There is a strong relationship between Olive and Dwayne, when Dwayne breaks down after finding out he is color blind Olive is there to comfort him same with Dwayne being there for Olive when she is getting ridiculed onstage at the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. The parents however seem to be on the brink of a divorce due to the constant arguments, if financial burdens get any tougher it may break their marriage. The family is experience negative entropy, each member is growing and developing. Frank who was at first suicidal is giving Dwayne advice about life. Richard is realizing that life is not all about winning but seeing the beauty in loving his family for who they are and what they do.

When questioning the family, concerns would be whether or not Frank is still at risk of suicide? Has Frank identified the immediate problem that is causing excessive stress? He is suffering from a broken heart and due to that he is losing everything else around him because the man before is overshadowing his family, his goals, and his future. Has Frank identified any strengths that he still has? This question is asked because he is depressed about losing his job and as well as his standing as America’s pre-eminent Proud Scholar. Frank does show some signs of depression, he has a made a previous attempt, and he has no spouse. According to the SAD PERSONS scale Frank as a client may be considered for hospitalization though he has an amazing support system with his family.(344).

An important idea in the film “Little Miss Sunshine” directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris is the idea that being a winner is more about perseverance and having fun than coming first place and always succeeding. A key character in the film is Richard Hoover, who portrays the development of this idea through his dialogue, costume and camera angles. Initially as defined by Richard, the world is split into only two types of people, “winners and losers”. Richard’s opening shot shows a middle-aged man orating to an audience, with a large projector behind him showing ‘the 9 steps’.

The low angle establishing shots make him look like a man of importance, but ironically, once his speech has ended we realize he is speaking not to a large crowd of people, but a near empty classroom, with only 10 people. While there is a slight feeling of pity it also brings a note of humor to the speech as Richard who was portrayed as the ‘winner’ of the scene is now revealed to be more of a loser. The opening line of the film is “There are two types of people in this world, winners and losers” indicating to the viewer that the idea of what makes someone a winner will be dominant throughout the film.

The statement is also used as a voice-over for the films first scene, where Olive is practicing winning a beauty pageant. Through this the audience quickly connects that Richard’s view of success has greatly influenced his daughter’s, as she practices her ‘winning’ face. The opening scene has been carefully chosen by the Dayton and Faris as a way to communicate to the audience that Richard’s perspective on winners will be a significant theme throughout the film. Richards’s obsession with winning and how he pushes this onto others is again witnessed as he manipulates Olive into not eating ice cream.

When the slightly chubby Olive chooses Waffles and ice cream for breakfast, Richard implies that fatty foods and beauty pageants cannot co-exist. His careful choice of words “Have you ever seen a fat beauty pageant winner? ” show him using Olive’s ambitions to dictate her behavior. He knows she cares deeply about this, and takes advantage of it. The Hoovers reaction to Richard is subtle but vital suggesting to the viewer that when people reach this level of obsession with victory it is no longer appropriate. As in this scene, Richard is shown in a close up of his face.

However, when Dwayne, Grandpa and Frank try to get Olive to eat ice cream, they are shown with a mid-shot, displaying their cohesion when trying to cheer up Olive. This group shot further enforces Richard’s separation from the group, illustrating how the family is starting to realize that Richard’s attitude is no longer acceptable. The next important scene is were the audience finally sees Richard at his lowest point, and how he has invested so much of his life into the 9 steps that he cant bear to move on. When Richard is confronted with Sheryl screaming “Fuck the 9 steps Richard…I never want to hear the nine steps again!

” he realizes that the foundation of his life might all be crap. Richard urgently hunts down Stan, his ex-business partner, but is met with further rejection. Richard is unable to accept that Stan has moved on, replying, “You mean give up? One set back, you’re ready to quit”. This scene is important for displaying the theme of what makes someone a winner because it fully encompasses the fact that Richard has become so consumed with compartmentalizing the world into winners and loser, he can no longer see the difference between giving up and just moving on.

Costume was also used in this scene to fully emphasize the contrast between Stan Grossman (the winner) who wore an expensive suit, and Richard (the loser), who has on trainers, kaki pants and a cheap polo shirt. When Richard’s father dies, we see an important shift towards the idea of participation relating to winners. The directors have chosen this moment for this idea of what makes a winner to take a significant shift as the audience can see that the grief of losing his father causes Richard change his view on success as he learns to appreciate family.

Choosing between abiding by the law (remaining with the body at the hospital) or supporting his daughter, makes him realize that coming first doesn’t always make you a winner. “If there’s one thing my father would have wanted it’s to see Olive perform in the LMS pageant. ” This dialogue shows how Richard has developed, realizing that winning is more about determination and taking part, than first place. Winners are now seen as people that “don’t give up. ” He sees that it wasn’t about Olive coming first for Grandpa, it was about her taking part.

Finally the family makes it to the pageant but things start to take turn for the worse when Richard sees the rest of the competition. His expression goes from one of pride and excitement to a look of surprise and worry with and his mouth agape as it gradually dawns on him that the whole point of the trip (winning the Pageant) is no longer a reality as the other contestants are obviously much more experienced and competitive. Richard then rushes into the changing rooms to hurriedly tell Sheryl “I don’t want her to go on”.

This shows that he still believes that it is better to avoid being a loser by not participating than to try and have fun with the risk of not winning. Although the audience can tell by Richards ashamed face, and avoidance of eye contact with Sheryl that he is somewhat embarrassed about having this feeling. This attitude is directly contrasted to the advice that Grandpa gave to Olive “A real loser is someone so afraid of losing that they don’t try at all”. The final scene where we finally see the idea that winning is more about perseverance and having fun than coming first is when Olive performs her dance routine.

In this scene Richard finally understands what being a winner is really all about and instead of telling Olive to stop dancing he instead takes part jumping on stage and validating Olives choice to take part by copying her movements, regardless of if they are going to win. This is when he realizes that participating because you enjoy it is also a lot more fun, smiling and laughing as his family takes the stage, skipping in circles and whooping. This final scene fully conveys to the audience the joy and fulfillment you can gain if you leave your inhibitions behind and have fun by following your passions

In conclusion an important Idea in Little Miss Sunshine was displayed through the use of Richard, a main character, coupled with various cinematic techniques such as dialogue, camera angles and costume. This helped to show how initially in the Hoover household a winner was someone who always came first and put their goals before everything else, even family. But gradually as the film progressed they came to realize that striving for first place is an unfulfilling goal but being a true winner is someone who has the perseverance to take part and have fun, regardless of how what others say.

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