Winners | Teen Ink


February 26, 2008
By Anonymous


The concept of winning and losing is a commonly held mentality for the average person – the sports player, business associate, scholar, and the competitor. The purpose of Little Miss Sunshine, directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathon Dayton, is to show the viewer the detrimental, long-lasting effects this “winning vs. losing” concept can have on family relations. The Hoover family, introduced in Little Miss Sunshine, has the potential to get along well as a family, but first must struggle to overcome their misconceptions regarding what it takes to be on top.

During the first main scene in the movie, Olive’s innocence leads her to question her suicidal Uncle Frank, who has just moved in with her family, regarding the bandages on his wrist. Her father, Richard – a failing businessman who is hardly able to provide for his family – is unable to sit still as his wife helps Frank inform Olive about his attempted suicide. Richard’s level of uncomfort is evident, yet Frank persists in explaining to Olive his downfall that led up to his suicide attempt. Richard, a loser himself in every sense of the word, feels inclined to point out the failures in other people: “Uncle Frank gave up on himself, which is something winners never do.” Olive accepts that her father will only acknowledge winners, which is something that Olive learns she must live up to.

Dwayne, Olive’s brother who has taken a nine month “vow of silence” until he makes it into the air force, is also introduced during this scene in the movie. One is able to see through Dwayne the effects of observing as his family differs through their definitions of winners and losers in drastically different ways. Because of Dwayne’s vow of silence, his form of communication is written. When Frank tries to correspond with Dwayne and ask who he hangs out with, Dwayne’s response is written “I Hate Everyone.” “What about your family?” Frank replies. Dwayne’s reaction to Frank’s persistency is a deep underlining of “Everyone.” Dwayne’s silence says more than words can, as he quietly sits back and watches his family members out-dream themselves.

When the family is forced to travel together to California for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in which Olive is participating, each character is required to confront the flaws of his own concept of winning and what it means to be a winner. While the family is on the road, they stop at a restaurant for lunch. Richard realizes for the first time that because he is so wrapped up in his failures, he has started to ignore his role as a father and instead has begun coaching Olive on how to become a winner at life – which is clearly an undefined role. Moreover, when Olive states that “Daddy hates losers,” it becomes obvious that his actions have been taking a toll on the overall family relations.

As the family approaches California for the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, the resolution of the movie came together. Dwayne realizes that he is color blind and his dream of joining the Air Force Academy will never be a reality. Dwayne’s initial reaction to this news is an angry outburst, but Olive is able to calm him simply by putting her head on his shoulder. It is in that moment that Dwayne recognizes that he does not need to attend the Air Force Academy to be a winner; he needs the love and support of his family.

Once the family reaches the pageant, it becomes apparent that Olive is not the standard beauty queen: beautiful, thin, and talented. When Dwayne, Frank and Richard come to the realization that Olive is going to embarrass herself by performing the only dance she knows, they try to stop her. In a desperate attempt to find Olive, Dwayne “trespasses” backstage: “Hey, where are the dressing rooms?” Dwayne demands. “Are you even allowed back here?” a contestant replies. “Just tell me where the dressing rooms are!” Ultimately, the decision is left up to Olive whether or not she wants to perform. When she does perform, she gets laughed at, which becomes the turning point for the entire Hoover family.

The Hoover family does not watch as Olive humiliates herself on stage. Instead, one by one, they join Olive. Richard was the character who said this earlier in the movie: “Do you know what a loser is? A real loser is somebody who is so afraid of not winning they don't even try.” Earlier in the movie, Richard said this quote in bitterness, but by the end of the movie, his character was changed to the extent that he was willing to get on stage with his daughter and humiliate himself in front of an entire crowd. Winning and losing lost its materialism and gained family – the real American Dream.

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