Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin), aged seven, loves beauty pageants and unexpectedly wins the local contest. This forces her family to take her on the long journey from Albuquerque to California to compete in the national ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ Contest. Her father Richard (Greg Kinnear) is an unemployed motivational speaker who believes that the world is divided into winners and losers. He wants his family to be winners at any cost. Sheryl (Toni Collette) is the mother, accepting and tolerant of everyone. She believes that children should know all the facts and truth about everything. She will support any choices and decisions they make in their lives. This includes defending her older son Dwayne (Paul Dano), a follower of Nietzche’s philosophy, who has taken a vow of silence and hasn’t spoken for nine months. Dwayne hates everybody, and his goal is to become a fighter pilot.
The family also incorporates foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed Grandpa Hoover (Alan Arkin), kicked out of a retirement home for taking heroin. Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) also comes to live with the family, in need of care after a suicide attempt.
Thus the whole family set out on the trip to California in the dilapidated Kombi van that is their only means of transport. A very funny and heartbreaking journey transpires, as this dysfunctional family overcome many obstacles to reach the truly awful and highly hypocritical Little Miss Sunshine contest.
Family conflict; body image; death and suicide
Although no violence is actually shown in this movie, there is reference to Uncle Frank’s attempted suicide. He is shown shortly afterwards in a hospital gown with his wrists bandaged.
Content that may disturb children
- Olive gets left behind at a rest stop until the family realise she is missing.
- Dwayne won’t speak and hates everybody.
- Olive’s parents are constantly arguing and shouting at each other.
- Dwayne has to share his room with his Uncle Frank, and leaves him a note that he mustn’t kill himself tonight.
- Grandpa dies during the journey. The family has to wrap his body in a sheet until they can contact an undertaker.
- Sheryl explains to Olive that Frank tried to commit suicide because he was very unhappy. When Olive asks Uncle Frank why he was unhappy, he explains that he was in love with a young man who didn’t love him back.
- Dwayne discovers he’s colour blind during the trip and goes berserk. He kicks and screams and runs out of the car. His first speaking words are full of hatred and venom for his family.
Some children over the age of 13 could be concerned by the discussions of suicide.
- Grandpa’s advice to Dwayne is to have sex with lots of women in his lifetime, not just one or two.
Grandpa says that if a woman asks him to have sex with her, he wouldn’t be able to because he’s too tired.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
There is some use of substances in this movie. For example, Grandpa snorts heroin and Sheryl smokes.
Nudity and sexual activity
Grandpa buys pornographic magazines that show bare breasts and buttocks.
This movie contains frequent mild to medium-level coarse language.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Little Miss Sunshine is a black comedy aimed at adults. It exposes the hypocrisy in children’s beauty pageants as well as the myth of winners versus losers. The main messages from this movie are that so called ‘losers’ can be winners too and that body image is irrelevant in the broad scheme of things.