The “Winning” Factor

What "Little Miss Sunshine" tells us about America's view of success


The Hoover family go on an eventful road trip in this satirical comedy

Although the film  Little Miss Sunshine was released in 2006, it contains themes that still appear to be relevant in today’s society. The movie features a dysfunctional family, the Hoovers, as they travel 1000 miles in a minivan to take their youngest, Olive Hoover, to the “Little Miss Sunshine” Beauty Pageant where she can compete for the crown. While Olive’s wish of becoming a beauty pageant star seems more prominent throughout the film, each member of the family has an individual dream for themselves. Richard, the father of the family, works as a motivational speaker who preaches about a program titled “9 Steps to Success.” Dwayne, the troubled son, is dedicated to his goal of becoming a pilot in the Air Force. The grandfather defines his own goal as a search of happiness and worldly pleasures. Sheryl, the honest mother, just wants to keep the family unit together despite the chaos. And finally Frank, the suicidal homosexual uncle, wants to reestablish his position as “the preeminent Proust Scholar of the US.”

American society teaches the idea that hard work and passion is the key to success. What is ironic about this family is that although they work hard for their dreams and are extremely passionate about them, their success seems to be unattainable. Two characters in particular, Dwayne and Richard, experience this common phenomenon. Dwayne trains daily for the Air Force, yet realizes his dreams are shattered once he discovers that he is colorblind. Richard is resilient in making his motivational program a hit, but his partner Stan Grossman reveals that the idea is an overall flop. In a society driven to succeed, it is no wonder Richard and Dwayne have intense emotional reactions when their dreams feel out of reach. Richard, brainwashed by the American Dream, believes that “winning” is the only way to be useful in the world. This regards to another flaw in American society: although America promotes hard work and perseverance, the main focus is on accomplishments and achievements rather than experience. Unfortunately, conformity is what is truly being promoted.

During the end of the film, Dwayne makes an excellent point, saying that life “is just one beauty contest after another.” People today conform to the overwhelming expectations of educational life so that they may find success. People want to go to the “best” schools and have the “best” jobs. However, the Hoover family teaches the audience that being a part of the “loser” factor actually gives us personal freedom. As Olive dances onstage during the beauty pageant, the family joins in the fun despite the rest of the audience’s disgust. In the end they realize that they are ones who can set the limits on their dreams, making them true winners in their own eyes.



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