The Hoover family does nothing but argue. When seven-year-old-Olive gets invited to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant, the whole family load themselves and all their emotional baggage into a VW bus for a memorable trip from Albuquerque to California for the pageant.
"A real loser is somebody who is so afraid of not winning, he doesn't even try"
~Grandpa (Little Miss Sunshine)
The Hoover Family is obsessed with winning. Richard, the head of the family, is a man with a mission: to sell his 9-step program on winning. The philosophy he preaches in his program and incessantly to his family is “there are two kinds of people in this world: winners and losers”.
Ironically, as this movie focuses our attention so intently on winning, we cannot ignore the failure all around us. Richard, who has desperately tried to sell his program, cannot get a return phone call from his agent. Olive, the seven-year-old daughter dreams of being in a beauty pageant, but as precious and adorable as she is, a beauty queen she is not. Her brother Dwayne, makes it clear he hates everyone. Add to the mix, Grandpa, who got kicked out of his nursing home for a heroine addiction and Uncle Frank, who tried to take his life after losing his lover to a man who becomes America’s #1 Proust Scholar, a title Frank used to hold.
A road trip to get our heroine, Olive, to fulfill her dreams and participate in the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant transforms this family and challenges Richard’s whole idea of winners and losers. Richard’s belief structure has competition—placing two forces against each other—as the heart of his model. Olive, on the other hand, is not miserable, though she is focused on winning just as much as the others are.
She is haunted by her Father’s words, but is illuminated by Grandfather’s true definition of winners and losers.
Olive’s cooperative spirit is infectious. It is her drive, her kindness, her willingness to pursue her dream that ultimately helps everyone. As the entire family journeys to support her, they begin to heal one by one and redifine their definition of winners and losers. We watch as they literally push their way to California-laughing, crying, arguing, but in the end coming together in a shared goal.
What we begin to see is that we are all seeking connection and cooperation with others on our journey toward fulfilling our dreams. In seeking this with others, we open ourselves up to self-love and self-acceptance. We are giving ourselves room to experiment, grow and evolve. The focus isn’t on winning or losing, it is about taking that step.
It’s time to take Grandpa’s words to heart and try. It’s time to write that story, paint that picture, open that business, get that degree…trust that regardless of the final outcome, you will benefit from what can be learned and shared from the trip. So whatever it is, jump in that VW bus and head toward your dream—you can only succeed.
14 Fun Facts about Little Miss Sunshine from Mental Floss