“Little Miss Sunshine” is a film by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris written by Michael Arndt. The story is about a family that is on the edge of an explosion. The main plot centers on Ollie, a girl that dreams to win the Miss Little Sunshine contest. Together with her family, she starts the trip in Volkswagen Microbus that lasts two-screen hours. The van drives to Redondo Beach, California. Thus, her parents, brother, grandfather, and her uncle go to support Ollie in that competition. During the trip, the van breaks and stops so that the family members face different obstacles which they overcome together. The whole story is rather oppressive with the climax taking place in the very end, at the beauty pageant. The beauty competition is not exactly the competition for children where slim, pre-teen girls look like hookers with stylish haircuts and make-up. The contest is blown to pieces by the brilliant performance of Olive who thanks her grandfather for “teaching [her] the moves”.
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The comedy has numerous awards and many feedbacks from critics. This road movie introduces the audience to one of the most fractured families united by the competition. Little Miss Sunshine is suitable for the whole family that learns what it means to be a part of one.
Ollie is surrounded by a society that does not care about the norms of morale. In the movie, the social environment is rather dangerous for children. At the pageant, the little girls dressed in the bright swimsuit stand in alluring poses in order to impress the judges. Ollie, who had been taught by her grandfather “easy moves”, begins a striptease. The audience is embarrassed by the children’s behavior without having a second idea that this is a result of their upbringing. Society, however, is terrified by a child’s behavior. Parents are not aware of the actual danger of the competition. The girls are affected by the malicious and dissipated environment created by society. Ollie begins her awkward dancing that shocks the public. However, her parents get on the stage and start dancing normally with their daughter. By this, they save Ollie from disgrace. (Richards, p 38).
The movie shows that society traveling apart on the wheels is a corrupt society that is obsessed with material success and subjected to the norms of the American family. Their vigorous desire to conform to the standards divides people into the “losers” and “winners”. That traditional competition is the purpose of every family since everybody longs to be a “winner”. However, the fact is that society cannot be reduced to those groups, and that is what the movie is all about. These stereotypes are smartly satirized by the authors.
The movie creators managed to highlight problems that a middle-class American family experience. Ollie lives in a family that has many drawbacks. Hence, her father Richard is obsessed with self-improvement and does not pay much attention to her daughter. In spite of an unsuccessful career, he is determined to enter the “winner” program in order to become rich. Her brother Dwayne is captured by philosophical stuff. His keeping silent is a kind of a passive-aggressive protest against the family. Ollie’s uncle, a former college professor, tries to commit suicide because of his unshared love for a man. Her heroin-snorting Grandpa is the only person who participates in Ollie’s life and helps her to get ready for the beauty contest. Only her mother who is sane and reasonable does her best to look after her miserable brother and the family members. Despite all that, Ollie is the embodiment of love and wisdom who manages to unite her wacky family together in the competition.
The family decides to carry out an 800-miles trip to support their little daughter. That trip teaches the family how to keep together and to appraise the kin relationships. The phrase “No one gets left behind” reunites the family at the end of the story. Ollie’s father finally realizes the significance of leadership and love. He reveals his courage when together with his family he decides to steal Grandpa’s body from the hospital in order to give him an honorable burial. Creativity and team spirit help the Hoovers to overcome these difficulties.
The family pulls together facing obstacles in the course of their journey. Even the bus the Hoovers travel in and its sunny color symbolize the triumph of surpassing these adversities. During the trip, the Hoovers practice their creativity, teamwork, and humor when they are stopped by the police officer for a traffic violation. Ollie’s mother, Sheryl, tries to preserve the spirit of victory while being the embodiment of positive psychology principles and advocating optimism as well as the acquired experience. On the whole, the movie shows that families cannot always defend their children. However, this family is far from perfect revives the hope for better changes and proves the failure of the winner-loser competition. Though the end of the story is bittersweet – Olive loses the competition – her persistence and ambitions inspire the whole family
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Based on the above, it is necessary to mention the depiction of the class relations in “Little Miss Sunshine”. The family belongs to the middle class that especially matters as far as class snobbishness is involved. Richard is an ordinary manager, a person who has read too many self-help books. He represents the working class that fights for the opportunity of successful job placement. In general, the movie shows a dysfunctional family that has numerous problems. Despite this, the Hoovers are not differentiated from other parents in the contest who cover up their daughter with a spray-on bronzer in the anticipation of the miracle.
Gender and age problems, as well as behavior, are also involved in the film. At the pageant, Ollie and her mother show that female beauty does not depend on the shining gowns and smart make-up but on the personality and character. Gender distinctions are also revealed in the description of Ollie’s brother who attempts to gain the appropriate physical form to become a pilot. The Hoovers are an example of a conventional American family that strives to follow sexist stereotypes and to fit a fixed psychological picture. In the movie, the concept of age affiliation breaks in terms of behavior. The age irrelevance is presented by Dwayne and his Grandpa. Thus, Dwayne seems to look like too much an adult due to his interest in studying Nietzsche’s philosophy. Grandpa is depicted as a teenager who suffers from an addiction and as a result, dies from a drug overdose. These comical characters involved in the movie constitute the problem of role distribution in the family and the infringement of a family institution as a whole.
“Little Miss Sunshine” is also the conflict of individuality and ordinariness. Thus, the film shows the transition of the family from conventionalism to individualism initiated by the youngest member of the family. Her sincerity and directness lead to considerable transformations in the family. The changes taking place at the end of the movie prove that only unanimous efforts could bring positive results. The work and family interactions are also traced in the film. Both institutions are predetermined by class distinctions and are reflected by the surrounding society. Hence, Richard is more concerned with finding a successful job rather than taking responsibility for the head of the family. Sheryl, the mother gives priority to the family reconciliation rather than paying attention to the desperate searching for a job. In general, everybody is overwhelmed with his or her own problems that are the main reasons for the pressured psychological environment.
In conclusion, it should be admitted that the movie conforms to reality since the characters are not idealized. Though the genre of the story is a comedy, still it highlights the social and psychological problems of typical American families. The filmmakers skillfully highlight the generation gap, the unemployment problem, and the conflict in male-female relations. In addition, the main moral of the story lies in satirizing the American ideals of the family. It supports individuality in everything including a family institution and social environment. This story depicts the truth about the way people live with all the shortcomings and merits of family life and the way how it overcomes all its adversities by means of common efforts
Arndt, Michael, Dayton, Jonathan & Faris, Valerie. Little Miss Sunshine US: Newmarket Publishing & Communication Company, 2007.
Little Miss Sunshine. Michael Arndt. Notable performers: Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, Steve Carrell. 2006. DVD. Twentieth Century Film Corporation.
Richards, Ann, Richard, Ed. Anne, Privett, Peter. Through the Eyes of a Child: New Insight in Theology from a Child’s Perspective England: Church House Publishing, 2009.
Skolnick, Arlene and Jerome. Family in Transition. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2008.