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Film / Little Miss Sunshine

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"A real loser is somebody that's so afraid of not winning, they don't even try."
Grandpa Edwin Hoover

Little Miss Sunshine is a dark, dysfunctional and wildly hilarious 2006 family Dramedy about a Road Trip, directed by the husband-and-wife team of 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 the primary breadwinner 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 tried and failed to commit suicide after losing his job and the man he loves.


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

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
  • Age-Inappropriate Art: Olive's performance at the pageant: a striptease at a beauty pageant to the song "Super Freak".
  • Age-Inappropriate Dress: The contestants at the pageant wear very sexualized outfits, despite being 6-10 years old. Olive's outfit is very modest (and much more age-appropriate) compared to them. However, Olive compensates this by performing a very raunchy dance that her grandfather taught her.
  • Advertisement:
  • The Alleged Car: Their VW bus. First, the transmission 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.
  • Base-Breaking Character: 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 is very kind to her fans and encourages them.
  • 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
  • Bittersweet Ending: None of the Hoovers get what they want: Dwayne finds out he can never join the Air Force since he's colorblind; Richard's program doesn't sell, leaving the family's financial future uncertain; Frank's still nowhere close to fixing his life; Edwin dies from a heroin overdose; and after all the trouble they went through to get her there in time, Olive doesn't even win the pagaent they drove across three states for (and is in fact banned from ever entering any pageants in California again). But everyone's matured considerably from the whole ordeal and the family is now closer than it's ever been.
  • Black Comedy: You will laugh at this movie, and you will probably feel terrible about it.
  • Bluffing the Authorities: The father, Richard, attempts this to prevent a highway patrolman from noticing that the dead body of the grandfather, Edwin, is being stored in their van. He succeeds when the cop finds Edwin's dirty magazines, thinking that's what Richard is trying to hide, and laughs it off.
  • 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 go through a lot during the course of the film.
  • Cathartic Scream: Dwayne screams his lungs out on learning that his color-blindness will prevent him from becoming an Air Force pilot.
  • Chaotic Car Ride: A Dysfunctional Family reluctantly goes on a road trip to get their youngest member signed up for a beauty pageant. Predictably, a lot of arguments ensue during the car ride.
  • Cheerful Child: Olive, even though she breaks down once, is almost 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.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: A surprisingly sweet subversion. When the family first heads out on the road, they stop at a diner for breakfast and Olive orders waffles a la mode (though she doesn't initially know that it means "with ice cream"). Richard then gives her a long lecture about how fattening ice cream is, and points out that most of the beauty pageant contestants Olive admires are skinny, so they must not eat it. Though the rest of the family is able to coax Olive into having the treat anyway, she's clearly upset by her father's words. Then, at the end of the movie, Olive gets to meet Miss California, one of the pageant judges. She then asks the beauty queen if she eats ice cream...and Miss California happily tells her that she loves it. The relief on Olive's face about one of her heroes liking her favorite food is palpable.
    • As pointed out on the Heartwarming Moments page, it also counts as Fridge Brilliance: Miss California clearly knows why Olive is asking the question, and her kind, honest response is the best advice that she could give the little girl.
  • Children Are Innocent: Played straight with Olive throughout the movie. The other pageant contestants are a subversion: they deliberately wear revealing outfits and perform sensual routines despite being no more than ten.
  • 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?
  • Dwayne breaking his silence upon learning he is colorblind and therefore can't become an Air Force test pilot is as heartbreaking as the rest of the movie is funny.
  • Contrived Coincidence: When the family stops at a gas station in California, Frank's former lover just so happens to be there, too. And he just so happens to be with his new lover (and Frank's rival) on their way to a private spa. And Frank just so happens to be buying heterosexual pornography for Grandpa. It's especially contrived because the two are supposed to be at a conference in New Haven, Connecticut, clear across the country.
  • 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.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Dwayne when he finds out he'll never be allowed to fly. He reacts poorly, and loudly.
  • Didn't Think This Through: You know, for all they sacrificed to get Olive to the pageant, they never thought to ask her to show them her dance routine.
  • Dirty Old Man: The grandpa. His life advice to Dwayne? "Fuck a lot of women, kid. Not just one woman. A lot of women."
  • 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.
  • Dream-Crushing Handicap: Dwayne is colorblind and thus won't be able to fly planes in the Air Force.
  • Driven to Suicide: Frank is first seen after an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
  • Driving Stick: The VW bus' manual transmission is why the entire family has to go on the trip. Sheryl needs to look after Olive but can't drive stick so Richard has to come along and drive. Eventually the transmission breaks and the only way they can start the Bus is by pushing it and popping the clutch.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Mother and father on the verge of divorce, mopey son that hates everybody, suicidally-depressed uncle, and a grandfather who got kicked out of a nursing home for snorting heroin.
  • Elective Mute: Dwayne at first.
  • 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 heroin? Those stuff will kill ya'."
  • Grumpy Old Man: The grandfather exhibits this a lot.
  • 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 preteen girls parade around in bikinis with tons of makeup on, but Olive's "Super Freak" act is going too far. Presumably, it's not okay for "fat" girls.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Olive towards Frank when he's explaining why he tried to kill himself. Frank doesn't take offense, however.
    Frank: I fell in love with someone who didn't love me back.
    Olive: Who?
    Frank: One of my grad students. I was very much in love with him.
    Olive: Him? It was a boy? You fell in love with a boy?
    Frank: Yes, I did. Very much so.
    Olive: That's silly.
    Frank: You're right. It was silly. It was very, very silly.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Dwayne and Grandpa.
  • Large Ham: The pageant MC, especially his painfully-corny rendition of "America".
  • Little Black Dress: Olive wears one during the evening gown competition.
  • Lover and Beloved: Frank was in love with a graduate student of his, who had a relationship with someone else — Frank's rival professor.
  • Meganekko: Olive and her big chunky glasses.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Grandpa, who teaches Olive her routine and supports her the whole way, dies halfway to the pageant.
  • Misery Builds Character: The philosophy Frank comforts Dwayne with during their conversation on the beach. Also possibly describes the film overall.
  • Mood Whiplash: Goes back and forth between subtle (or hilarious) humor and dark drama through 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.
  • Not in Front of the Kid: Before Grandpa advises Dwayne to "fuck a lot of women" with Olive in the car, he makes sure that she doesn't hear anything because she has headphones on. When she takes them off and asks what are they talking about, he responds "politics".
    • Fun fact: those headphones weren't just for show. The actress playing Olive really couldn't hear what was being said while she had the headphones on.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Richard and his brother-in-law Frank don'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.
  • 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 Trip Plot: Most of the movie takes place traveling to the pageant.
  • 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:
  • 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 two people in this world; winners and losers" mentality.
    • However, he does state that the difference between them isn't that winners are inherently better people, but that they never give up.
  • Spiritual Successor: To National Lampoon's Vacation.
  • 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 Children Are Innocent coming into play. Kirby, Ms. California and arguably the pageant assistant for the pageant staff.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: 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 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. First, he fell in love with one of his students, who didn't return his feelings and started a relationship with Frank's rival, Larry Sugarman instead. Frank was so upset by this, that his behavior got him fired, and he had to leave his apartment move into a motel. Then he heard that Sugarman got a "Genius Grant" from the MacArthur Foundation. At this point he couldn't take it any longer and tried to kill himself.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Welcome to Hell: "Thanks, Dwayne. Coming from you that means a lot."
  • Wham Line:
    • "Grandpa won't wake up..."
    • Also, "You can't fly jets if you're colorblind."
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


Little Miss Sunshine

Olive's brother Dwayne dreams of being an Air Force pilot to the point of taking a vow of silence until he accomplishes it. However, Dwayne finds out he is colorblind, making it impossible for him to be a pilot. He does not take it well.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / TragicDream

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