Winning Doesn't Matter: A Critical Term Paper
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His face is expressionless as he focuses on the heavy bar he raises and lowers. The camera then cuts to shot of the boy's room; we see the boy's arms only lifting the bench press. The camera then cuts to a shot the boy jumping rope, doing sit-ups, push-ups, and finally pull-ups. The scene ends with the boy writing down and crossing off day 473 on a very long chart. The camera shows a side-profile shot of the boy looking blankly at the chart, and then re-focuses to capture the boy's face in the mirror standing next to him, still appearing empty in his eyes. This is our introduction to Dwayne, Olive's brother, and his quest to fulfilling his dream of joining the Air Force and never having to deal with his dysfunctional family again.
The fourth character journey is embarked upon when a door then closes forcefully and a wrinkled hand presses in the lock on the knob. We see a pair of older hands then unzip a fanny pack and pull out a leather pouch. The camera then shifts to a shot of the man kneeling down in front of a table. We still can't see his face, but he lays the leather pouch out and removes a vial filled with white powder and a tiny mirror. He pours the drugs on the mirror, spreads it and cuts it with a razor blade. The man then raises the mirror up to his nose and uses a rolled up dollar-bill to snort the drugs. This is the first shot the viewer sees of his face, revealing that the man in indeed old, balding, and in need of a shave. The camera then cuts to a wider shot of the man kneeling in front of his dresser, and captures him from behind and in the mirror in front of him. He continues to sniff and breathe deeply, as he then rises and goes to sit down and lean back on a toilet in the room. He sighs, and looks content. This is our introduction to Olive's Grandpa, a crotchety old man who means the world to Olive and who has supported her tremendously in her dream of becoming a beauty pageant winner.
The fifth character to begin her journey is introduced with the very next shot of a woman driving a car, holding a smoldering cigarette in her hand and telling someone loudly that she is on her way. The camera shows a middle aged woman sighing exasperatedly into a cell phone and telling whomever she is talking to that she is at the hospital and must hang up. This is Sheryl, Olive's mother, who would like nothing more than to provide for her family and ensure their happiness, regardless of whether they are "winners" or "losers" as their father, Richard, categorizes them into.
Lastly, the sixth character journey begins when the camera switches to a shot of a solitary man, looking very somber and sullen dressed in a white hospital gown with an IV tube standing next to the wheel chair he sits in. As he stares out the window, the camera shifts to a close up shot of his face, allowing the viewer to see a look of extreme desperation in the man's eyes. This is Olive's uncle, Richard, who is now searching for meaning in his life after being fired for misconduct, stemming from a severe academic and romantic rivalry with colleague, at his job as a professor.
This introductory sequence is crucial the film's final message about the development of each character. In other words, each character is visually presented, without much dialogue, as searching and longing for something to bring change and improvement to his or her life. By the end of the trip to California, each member of the family has learned something significant about accepting human failings and adjusting their own personal goals.
III. Theme of Winning
The theme of the personal journey throughout Little Miss Sunshine ties in nicely with another underlying theme: winning. This is best exemplified by Olive's father, Richard. Throughout the film, Richard consistently emphasizes the importance of being a winner, of coming out on top in every situation. Although well-intentioned, Richard puts pressure on every member of the Hoover family to succeed. One of the most striking scenes is when the Hoover family sits down to eat at a restaurant. The
adult Hoovers order their typical breakfasts, with Olive being the exception and ordering waffles a la mode. Her mother allows it, and after the waitress leaves the table, Richard begins to tell Olive that ice cream is made from cream, which has a lot of fat and that anyone who eats ice cream will have her body turn into fat. Olive's mother objects, telling Olive that it doesn't matter whether she is skinny or fat, all that matters is that she is happy with who she is. Richard then delivers the stinging sentence that the women in the Miss America competitions are skinny, and not fat. Olive looks extremely distressed at this suggestion from her father, as she is only seven years old and body image issues are hard to comprehend for a girl that age.
Olive is a little girl, yet her father insisted that he discourage his slightly chubby daughter from eating what would have made any child happy to have for breakfast. This is one of the first examples we see of Richard's obsession with winning actually hurting his family. However, the restaurant scene concludes with the waitress bringing Olive her ice cream and the other family members teasing her that they will eat all her ice cream up if she just sits there pondering whether or not to eat it. As they reach their spoons towards the bowl, Olive bolts up in her seat and protectively wraps her arms around it. Olive dismisses the pressure to be a winner from her father, and lives in the moment, as any child should. Thus, the ultimate conclusion of the film is also exemplified in this particular scene: a person does not have to fit into society's "norms" in order to be a winner.
IV. Social and Psychological Importance of Little Miss Sunshine
Little Miss Sunshine is not only an important film because it explores a realistic, yet sensitive, subject that is pertinent to all our lives (the subject of family), but it also is important on a social and psychological level. Psychologist Dora Finamore writes that despite the dysfunctional nature of a family that is explored in Little Miss Sunshine, it is also important to note the elements of positive psychology throughout the film (129). Each family member demonstrates love, courage, and wisdom (Finamore 129). Finamore writes that positive psychology helps "young people learn to identify their character strengths, develop and cultivate traits for resiliency, and overcome depression by modifying their cognitions and emotional responses" (Finamore 129). We see this exemplified by the relationship between Olive and her brother Dwayne. The film contrasts Dwayne, the typical angst-filled teenager, with Olive, the optimistic, resilient, and sincere 7-year-old girl. We infer from Dwayne's blatant anger towards his family and the world that he may be depressed. but, as the film shows us, it is ultimately Olive's "positive psychology" that helps him overcome this.
V. Theme of Individual Success Through Family Unity
Another important theme in Little Miss Sunshine is the sense we get of the individual vs. The world, and how a strong sense of unity and family help to combat this battle. This is best exemplified by Olive competing with every other girl in the "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant. Although the "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant is for little girls, Olive is the only competitor there who actually looks her age. The other girls are dressed up and sexed up by their mothers and fathers, simply to be paraded in front of an audience. "By dressing young girls as mature women, the parents and organizers of these events are, however inadvertently, parading their children as objects" (Bartlett 2).
However, it is Olive's "sexy" dance routine that raises eyebrows and draws intense criticism. But what the critical beauty pageant audience fails to realize is that Olive's routine in actuality demonstrates what the pageant should be all about: little girls having fun. Olive has the time of her life dancing around the stage, performing the perhaps inappropriate routine her Grandpa taught her. Olive is perhaps naive as she rips off her tear-away pants to reveal tight shorts and kneepads, and gyrates across the stage to Rick James' "Super Freak." but, "[t]here is nothing sexual to her performance, only in the audience's recognition of its connotations" (Bartlett 1).
Ultimately, Olive loses the "Little Miss Sunshine," in fact she even gets banned from entering any beauty pageants in California in the future, for her "provocative" dance routine. But in reality, Olive, and the rest of the Hoovers, leave the…
Sources Used in Documents:
Bartlett, Myke. "Sex Sells: Child Sexualization and the Media." Screen Education; Spring. Issue 51 (2008): 106-111. Print.
Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing About Film. London: Longman Publishing. 2010. Print.
Dargis, Manohla. " 'Little Miss Sunshine': You're Either on the Family Bus, or You're Off." New York Times, 26 July 2006. Web. 3 March 2010.
Finamore, Dora. "Little Miss Sunshine and Positive Psychology as a Vehicle for Positive Change in Adolescent Depression." Popular Culture in Counseling, Psychotherapy, and Play-Based Interventions. Ed. Lawrence C. Rubin. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2008. 123-140. Print.
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