Little Miss Sunshine  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Little Miss Sunshine is an American dramatic comedy film about a family's road trip to a children's beauty pageant. The film was directed by the husband-wife team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and was produced by Big Beach Films on a budget of $8 million.


Sheryl Hoover (Toni Collette) is an overworked mother of two. Her brother Frank (Steve Carell) is a homosexual Proust scholar, temporarily living at home with the family after having attempted suicide in the wake of a failed relationship. Sheryl's husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a Type A personality striving to help support the family as a motivational speaker and life coach. Dwayne (Paul Dano), Sheryl's son from a previous marriage, is a Nietzsche-reading teenager who has taken a vow of silence until he can accomplish his dreams of becoming a test pilot. Richard's father, Edwin (Alan Arkin), recently evicted from a retirement home for snorting heroin, lives with the family; he is close to his seven-year-old granddaughter Olive (Abigail Breslin).

Olive learns she has qualified for the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant that is being held in Redondo Beach, California in two days. The family, wanting to support her, quickly realizes that they all must accompany Olive to the pageant, getting there via an 800-mile road trip in their yellow Volkswagen T2 Microbus.

Family tensions play out on the highway and at stops along the way, amidst the aging VW van's mechanical problems. When the van breaks down early on, they learn that they must push the van until it is moving at about 20 mph before it is put into gear, at which point they have to run up to the side door and jump in. Later, the van's horn malfunctions and begins honking continuously. The family suffers setbacks: Richard loses a big deal that would have jump-started his motivational technique business; Frank, in a convenience store buying pornography at Edwin's request, encounters the ex-boyfriend whose actions had prompted his suicide attempt; Edwin dies from a heroin overdose during the family's stay at a motel; Dwayne discovers that he is color-blind, which means he cannot become a pilot (a realization that prompts him to break his silence); and Sheryl's obsessive manner impels her to attempt to keep everyone, including herself, calm and sane.

The climax takes place at the pageant, which features young hypersexualized girls with teased hair and capped teeth, wearing adult-like swimsuits and evening wear and performing elaborate dance numbers. Olive, untrained in beauty pageant conventions, is evidently out of place. Recognizing that Olive is a fish out of water whose feelings could really get hurt, the family considers withdrawing her from the competition; Sheryl nevertheless insists that they have to "let Olive be Olive" and participate.

In the talent portion of the pageant, the hitherto-unrevealed dance that Grandpa Edwin had choreographed for his granddaughter is revealed: To the tune of Rick James' "Super Freak," Olive scandalizes and horrifies almost all of the audience and pageant judges with a burlesque performance that she joyfully performs, as oblivious to the subtext behind the dance as the other contestants were to the provocative costumes and heavy makeup they were wearing.

When the pageant director approaches Sheryl and Richard to insist on the immediate removal of Olive from the stage, they, along with Frank and Dwayne, instead join Olive on the stage and dance alongside her.

The family is next seen outside the hotel's security office. They are free to go on condition that Olive never take part in a beauty pageant in California ever again. They pile into the van and, with the horn still honking, smash through the barrier of a toll booth that the pageant official had stopped at, laughing together as they go. The movie cuts to black with the horn, still broken, sounding as the family heads back to their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


(in order of appearance)

Main cast:

Supporting cast:

Score and soundtrack

The score for Little Miss Sunshine was written by the Denver band DeVotchKa and composer Mychael Danna. Performed by DeVotchKa, much of the music was adapted from the pre-existing DeVotchKa songs "How It Ends," "The Enemy Guns," and "You Love Me" from the DeVotchKa record How It Ends and "La Llorona" from Una Volta.

Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris were introduced to DeVotchKa's music after hearing the song "You Love Me" on L.A.'s KCRW radio station. Mychael Danna was brought in to help arrange the pre-existing material and collaborate with DeVotchKa on new material for the film. Both DeVotchKa and Danna received 2007 Grammy nominations for their work on the soundtrack.

The soundtrack also contains two songs by Sufjan Stevens ("No Man's Land" and "Chicago"), and songs by Tony Tisdale ("Catwalkin'"), and Rick James ("Super Freak"). According to one of the film's DVD commentary tracks (the one including writer Michael Arndt), "Super Freak", the source music danced to by Olive during the "Little Miss Sunshine" talent competition, was introduced during post-production. Arndt's screenplay had called for Prince's song "Peach"; during filming, the ZZ Top song "Gimme All Your Lovin'" was used.

The Little Miss Sunshine score was not eligible for Academy Award consideration due to the percentage of material derived from already written DeVotchKa songsTemplate:Fact. The DeVotchka song "Til the End of Time" did receive a nomination for a 2006 Satellite Award as Best Original Song.

Two additional songs in the movie were written by Gordon Pogoda - "Let It Go" and "You've Got Me Dancing" (the latter of which he co-wrote with Barry Upton), which are featured during the pageant scenes near the end of the film.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Little Miss Sunshine" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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