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Film: Little Miss Sunshine

"A real loser is someone who's so afraid of not winning he doesn't even try."
Grandpa

Dark, dysfunctional and wildly hilarious family comedy about a Road Trip, directed by husband-and-wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

Seven-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) wants to participate in the titular beauty pageant located all the way in California. So her parents, brother, uncle and grandfather all drive her there in the only transportation they have: a broken down bus that's already coming apart. All sorts of misadventures and complications occur along the way, involving Nietzsche, Proust, a stripper routine and a dead body.

Richard (Greg Kinnear), the father, is an aspiring but failing motivational speaker who has plunged all his time and money into his Nine Steps program. His wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) is a homemaker and mother of Olive and Dwayne (Paul Dano). Dwayne, Sheryl's son from a previous relationship, is a brooding teenager with an obsession with Nietzsche, who's taken a vow of silence until he achieves his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot. Olive is a precocious little girl with a close relationship to her grandfather. Edwin (Alan Arkin), Richard's father, is a dirty, debauched old man with a sharp sense of humor and irony. Rounding out the clan is Sheryl's brother, Frank (Steve Carell), a bitterly sarcastic scholar who just tried to commit suicide over losing his job and the man he loves.

It's a touching and sweet film, with a very sinister edge, and became a huge hit with artsy critics and casual film fans alike.

Not to be confused with a certain yellow character from the Mr. Men series.


This film provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: Dwayne aims to be one.
  • Age-Inappropriate Dress: The pageant.
  • The Alleged Car: Their VW bus. First, the clutch breaks so the car needs to be push started every time, then the horn breaks and it beeps constantly, and finally, the sliding door falls out.
  • And Starring: With Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin.
  • Atomic F-Bomb : Dwayne wants to fly in the Air Force, and has sworn not to talk until he does. He does very well with his vow, until he finds out he's colorblind, and won't be allowed to fly. He starts flailing out in the back of the van. They pull over, and Dwayne immediately jumps out, runs several yards away, and curls down into a small ball, before letting out a resounding "FUCK!" and bursting into tears.
  • Badass Grandpa: Take a wild guess.
  • Base Breaker: In universe, the Hoovers are seen as a family that will stick together at worst times no matter what or simply as a shameless family by the audience at the pageant, as well as its staff.
  • Beauty Contest: At the end, also a major source of Squick.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Ms. California.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Dwayne tries to prevent Olive from competing in a contest that he views as oversexualized and demeaning to girls.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family
  • Big Word Shout: "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!"
  • Black Comedy
  • Break The Motivational Speaker: Happens to Richard, the father, though not by people he's speaking to, but by the agent who was supposed to get him a book deal.
  • Brutal Honesty: Dwayne supplies some of this, knowing Olive won't win the competition.
  • Bungled Suicide: Frank.
  • Butt Monkey: The Hoovers went through a lot during the course of the film.
  • Cheerful Child: Olive, though breaks down at one time, is always jolly and endearing.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The porn magazines.
    • Also the eye tests Olive picks up at the hospital.
    • Olive's pink CD player, which turns out to contain the music for her infamous burlesque routine.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Dwayne: "You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life is one fucking beauty contest after another. School, then college, then work... Fuck that. And fuck the Air Force Academy. If I want to fly, I'll find a way to fly. You do what you love, and fuck the rest."
    • And of course, Grandpa:
      "Every night it's the fucking chicken! Holy God Almighty! Is it possible just once we could get something to eat for dinner around here that's not the goddamned fucking chicken?"
  • Cooldown Hug: How Olive calms Dwayne down after his rant, when he finds out he won't be allowed to join the Air Force.
  • Cool Old Guy: Grandpa, to some extent.
  • Cool Uncle: Frank, especially once he starts regaining his cool towards the end of the movie.
  • Corruption of a Minor: Having the kids help them smuggle a dead body out of a hospital can't be healthy.
    • Averted in that Olive doesn't hear her grandfather's descriptions of his sex life and performs her burlesque routine completely oblivious to its inappropriateness. Dwayne on the other hand, wasn't as lucky.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Frank and Grandpa.
  • Dirty Cop: Played for laughs.
  • Dirty Old Man: The grandpa.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: The cop is distracted from granddad's dead body by pornographic magazines.
  • Double Meaning Title: The title refers to both the pageant that Olive will participate in, and Olive herself who is always cheerful and jolly.
  • Driven to Suicide: Frank is first seen after an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
  • Driving Stick
  • Dysfunctional Family.
  • Emo Teen: Dwayne.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Ms. California's name was never revealed.
  • Face of a Thug: The biker dad at the pageant. He's actually one of the Hoovers' supporters in the end, judging from his reactions before and after Olive's performance.
  • Fat Suit: Actress Abigail Breslin wore one in order to qualify for being Hollywood Homely.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: All of them at the end, but especially Frank and Dwayne.
  • Five-Man Band: The Hoovers.
  • Foreshadowing: "You started snorting heroine? Those stuff will kill ya'."
  • Grumpy Old Man: Just guess.
  • Happy Dance: Olive's dance number practically becomes this after her family joined her.
  • Hollywood Homely: Intentionally. Abby had to put on a fake belly to appear chubbier, and wore large chunky glasses with ill-fitting clothes to complete the illusion; she was more or less at the same weight as the other girls.
  • Humiliation Conga: The pageant staff, due to the Hoovers awesomely defying it.
  • Hypocrite: The whole pageant, apparently it's okay to have little girls parade around in bikinis with tons of make up on, but Olive's act is going too far.
  • Jerkass: Richard Hoover, in spades.
    • He gets better by the end of the movie
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Dwayne and Grandpa.
  • Little Black Dress: Olive wears one during the evening gown competition.
  • Lolicon: The pageant MC sure gives some creepy vibes...
  • Lover and Beloved: Frank was in love with a graduate student of his, who had a relationship with someone else — Frank's rival professor.
  • Man in White: Frank.
  • Meganekko: Olive.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Grandpa, who teaches Olive her routine and supports her the whole way, dies halfway to the pageant.
  • Mood Whiplash: Pretty much the entire movie.
  • Morality Pet: Olive could qualify as this for the whole family, though it's most evident for Grandpa.
  • The Musical: Yes, really.
  • Nice Guy: Kirby. Both Olive and Ms. California are a Gender Flip version of this.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Dwayne, literally.
    Frank: Who is that? Nietzsche? So you stopped talking because of Friedrich Nietzsche? ...Far out.
    • Other than his vow of silence, he's fairly reasonable and moderate about Nietzsche and his philosophy, displaying none of the Card-Carrying Villain traits often associated with the trope. He only has one rant about how pointless things are and it's delivered right after finding out his only dream in life is impossible (then a hug from his little sister calms him down and he apologizes for lashing out).
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Parodied. Frank says this exact line after they leave Olive at a gas station.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Richard and his brother-in-law Frank doesn't get along well.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: Smuggling the dead grandfather out of the hospital
  • Only Sane Woman: Sheryl is by far the most sane member of the family.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Dwayne's big outburst.
  • The Perfectionist: Richard.
  • Persona Non Grata: The pageant holders inform Olive's family that they won't press charges for their behavior during Olive's talent act, on the condition that they never enter her in another Little Miss pageant in the state of California. Ever again. Subverted though, in that the family's reaction to the news more or less amounted to "That's fine by us!"
  • Plucky Girl: Olive. No matter what kind of crap she and her family goes through and no matter how insurmountable the odds seem against her, she always manages to remain positive and upbeat. Most of the time, anyway.
  • Porn Stash: In the back of the bus, next to the dead body.
  • Queer People Are Funny: Inverted. In a movie that's a fairly precarious blend of comedy and drama, the one openly gay character in the cast (Frank) is one of the most drama-focused. The subplot about his struggle with depression is arguably the darkest part of the story, and he's one of the few characters in the Big Screwed-Up Family whose foibles are played for straight-up drama rather than Black Comedy.
  • Road Movie
  • Running Gag: Literally. Whenever Frank is running behind the bus, he asks, "Did I mention I am the pre-eminent Proust scholar in the US?"
  • Sassy Black Woman: The grief counselor. She starts out professional enough, but by the end of her argument with Richard she's giving him the head-bob.
  • Shout-Out: Possibly. Frank manages to summarize Proust in 30 seconds.
  • Silent Snarker: Dwayne.
    Dwayne's Sign: I hate everyone.
    Frank: Oh, come on, what about your family?
    Dwayne: (underlines "everyone")
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Grandpa and Dwayne after he breaks his vow of silence.
  • Slow Clap: Attempted after Olive's performance.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: The book agent's "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Richard painted that he was this all along, leading to his gradual Heel Realization.
  • The Social Darwinist: Richard and his "There are only tow people in this world; winners and losers" mentality.
  • Sorry, Billy, But You Just Don't Have Legs: Dwayne is colorblind and thus won't be able to fly planes in the Air Force.
  • Stand Your Ground: A comedic yet awesome example. The Hoover family members dance with Olive on stage one by one to guard her from the pageant administrator and staff who are planning to kick her out of the stage and competition.
  • Straight Gay: Frank. Also his student/lover and rival.
  • Take That: The entire film is allegedly a Take That to a speech by Arnold Schwarzenegger in which he claimed to hate "losers."
    • With Richard and Sheryl having a loud argument in the hotel next door, Dwayne simply lies in bed listening. Frank advises him against listening to them bicker and puts on the TV, where a speech by George W. Bush is on. Dwayne shuts it right back off and goes back to listening to the argument.
    • Olive's dance routine may have been an intentional Take That on the part of her grandfather at the objectification and sexualizing of young girls in these pageants.
    • The Hoover family ultimately did an one in-universe Take That, Audience! at the pageant.
  • Talking with Signs: Dwayne communicates through note writing for most of the movie.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Frank and the graduate student. Then Frank's rival and the graduate student.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: After his F-Bomb moment, Dwayne delivers one to his family out of anger and frustration. Olive is able to calm him down with a hug and the rest of the family are very forgiving of his hurtful words because they understand how upset he was.
    • The book agent delivers a variation of this to Richard note 
  • Token Good Teammate: Olive to the Hoovers due to the Children Are Innocent coming into play. Kirby, Ms. California and arguably the pageant assistant for the pageant staff.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Pretty much everyone dropped their Jerkass and cynical behaviors near the end of the film.
  • Too Much Information: The grandfather is good at providing this:
    Grandpa: Look, I know you are a homo and all, but maybe you can appreciate this. You go to one of those places, there's four women for every guy. Can you imagine what that's like?
    Frank: You must have been very busy.
    Grandpa: Ho oh. I had second degree burns on my johnson, I kid you not.
    • Also the title of a song (grandpa's, of course) in The Musical.
  • Tragic Dream: Dwayne is color-blind, hence he won't be an Ace Pilot like he always dreamed of. Olive being a beauty queen may also count.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailers for the DVD showed clips from the the burlesque routine, which came as a surprise if you saw it in theatres.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The events leading up to Frank's suicide attempt.
    • Happens to the family as a whole, really. First, the van breaks down. Then, Richard loses his contract. Frank encounters his ex, Grandpa dies, they have to smuggle his body out of the hospital, Dwayne learns that he can no longer be a pilot, and when they finally make it to the place they've gone through so much trouble to get to, they're nearly turned down. The universe really seems to enjoy their trouble.
  • Triage Tyrant: The hospital administrator.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Dwayne.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Sheryl and Olive.
  • Vocal Minority: In universe example. During Olive's burlesque routine, majority of the audience and judges are either shocked, disgusted or both. However, there are those who appreciate her guts aside from her family openly that showed their respect and admiration for her efforts.
  • The Voiceless: Dwayne at first.
  • Welcome to Hell: "Thanks, Dwayne. Coming from you that means a lot."
  • Wham Line: "Grandpa won't wake up..."
  • White and Grey Morality: The film has characters who only wanted to express and be true to themselves against characters who wanted to do what they know/think is right.
  • Wicked Stepfather: Not really wicked or evil, but Dwayne and Richard don't get along well.
  • Women Are Wiser: The most normal members of the family are Sheryl and Olive.
  • Wrestler in All of Us: Richard gave the pageant MC a Full Nelson when the latter is attempting to stop Olive's performance.

LincolnCreator/ 20 th Century FoxThe Long Hot Summer
Lilo & StitchDramedyLittle Shop of Horrors
Letters from Iwo JimaAcademy AwardThe Queen
The Little MermaidThe MusicalA Little Night Music
Little ManFilms of 2005 - 2009 The Lives of Others

alternative title(s): Little Miss Sunshine
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