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Little Miss Sunshine
Perhaps just a myth, there is no successful case of the American Dream when examining the Hoover family journey in the movie Little Miss Sunshine, directed by Jonathan Dayton. In this movie, the American Dream is disputed and proven to be fictitious and a result of wishful thinking. No one character manages to gain even a little success or triumph. To help matters, most problems and difficulties that occur throughout the movie are either never solved or not even properly addressed. Things only go down-hill for the Hoover family, contrary to what should occur in the American Dream that unlimited prosperity awaits in the Eden of America. The main, as well as multiple minor, characters never come across the prosperity and unlimited resources that exist in the 'dream.'
Throughout this movie of trying to achieve the non-existent American Dream, the Hoover family is confronted time and time again with failure after failure during the entire movie. Individually, the members of the family can not triumph. Only when the family comes together can they achieve any of the small victories that were sparsely scattered throughout the film. This set-up proves that the rising of the individual is another false idea that stems from the 'Dream.'
The biggest failure of the family, and the individual that has fallen the farthest, is Frank. After having lost and failed at so many things (failed love, failed career, being surpassed by a rival . . .) Frank gives up on himself and tries to commit suicide- only to fail at that as well. The stance that the movie takes on suicide is that no matter how bad it gets, suicide is not the way to escape. But, even if it does happen, it is not something to lie about or cover up, even with young children.
Lying is also another reoccurring character that occurs throughout the duration of the movie. . Lying is what causes Richard to find failure as being the father of the family when he continually lies to his family about his book deal. Richard constantly lies to his family that because his book idea is so great that it will sell. But when it doesn't and the family realizes the lie, not only does Richard lose some respect as the father figure, he becomes buried financial problems. Unfortunately, the biggest lie was to himself in believing the book would sell. This proves that the stance of this movie is that no matter who one lies to, those lies will catch up to their owner.
Even though Richard tries everything he can to sell the book, when the book doesn't sell, the family finds yet another failure and is still struggling financially. Contrary to the belief that if one tries hard enough, success awaits, there is no American Dream waiting for Richard, just another failure and false hope that his book will sell. Richard puts too much stock in this hope with the idea that, 'There's two kinds of people in this world, there's winners and there's losers. The difference is that winners never quit.' The falsehood of this idea is finally told to Richard by his publisher Stan, 'Nobody's ever heard of you. Nobody cares.' This statement just rips apart the idea of individuals rising up because if you're not well known then you will never rise up as an individual.
The family member that has the biggest, positive turnaround is Dwayne. In the beginning, Dwayne is reclusive and hates everyone. He is very anti-social and only looks out for himself. However, after being met with a crushing defeat when Frank tells him, 'I think you might be colorblind. You can't fly jets if you're colorblind,' Dwayne becomes more active in the family after his only dream is crushed. The point of this event is to show the stance of the movie: looking out for only one's best interests will result in failure. But, once Dwayne rejoins the family, he is met with the small successes that the family gains when they all work together. One of the small successes Dwayne has after rejoining the family is the realization, 'Forget beauty contests. Life is one beauty contest after another. School, then college, then work . . . forget that. You do what you love and forget the rest.' This shows that only when one stand for something greater than oneself are any achievements gained.
Dwayne's character also does more than just show that people should do what they love; he also depicts the idea that the morals of the American Dream need to be re-evaluated and people are not necessarily better than animals. These ideas are depicted when Frank says, 'Nietzsche? You stopped talking because of Friedrich Nietzsche? Far out.' It is Nietzsche's belief that the will to power is a secondary drive in the evolution of animals. Humans especially seem to be prone to this will to power because through greed and the drive to be the best we kick and beat each other down. These actions have a negative effect on the morals of society which desperately need to be re-evaluated, just as is Nietzsche's belief.
One by one as the family members actually started to act like family were they met with any success at all. The biggest victory of the whole movie was when the entire family started dancing in the pageant, although it was only a victory in declaring that they would be their own people and that they would not conform like the other people at the pageant. Sheryl is the biggest promoter of people being their own person by defending those who are different, 'Let Olive be Olive.' When Richard tries to make decisions for his dad Sheryl says, 'It's his life.' But once the family finally comes together, one of their first victories is getting the bus started. It took everyone to get the bus going and it took teamwork to make sure nobody got left behind.
In this movie the bus is so much more than that. Through the journey of the family to the pageant, the bus takes on the role of the broken American Dream. The bus is largely used to show when the family is working together towards a common goal and when they are not. When they are, the bus works better and therefore 'rewards' teamwork while when the family members struggle to be the risen individual, the bus won't as well or not at all. When Richard tries to become the famous author and leaves the family at the hotel, he can't get the bus to start. But, when the family works together, they can get the bus started and the only trouble is stopping the momentum of the unit when the bus refuses to slow, as when the family found the Rodondo Hotel. The bus is used to show that, just like the damaged VW, the American Dream is broken as well.
The number of problems throughout the film also has an important message of the falsehood of the American Dream. Ending with more problems than when it began, this movie takes the stance that the problems of society will not get better but instead just remain the same. None of the problems are solved and those that do go away are merely replaced with another, more pressing issue. The family's finances are bad because Richard spends money on trying to sell his book. When it is final the book won't sell, the money troubles are now more pressing. Dwayne talks now but only because his dream of flying has been destroyed. Grandpa stopped doing drugs but only because he died. Just like Grandpa said in the beginning, 'Every night it's the chicken! Is it possible just once we could get something to eat for dinner around here that's not the chicken?' Although a seemingly insignificant line from Grandpa, this quote symbolizes that just like the chicken, things will never be different for the Hoover family and achieving their dreams.
Another aspect of the American Dream that this movie proves as false is the idea that America is the new Eden. America is supposed to be the place the place of limitless prosperity and resources as the new Eden; but this is not what the Hoover family finds of America. Nothing is limitless and everything has a cost is the reality that the family struggles with throughout the movie. Barely managing to stay afloat financially, Richard and Sheryl argue about finances and how Richard's book drained all chances of that situation improving. After all the resources that have been spent on the book, when the book fails, the only thing Sheryl can say is, 'Where does that leave us?' This shortage of funds then results in a shortage of resources for the family, whether being food or otherwise. This is something that never would have happened in a so called Eden. The Hoover's even resort to following the 'old-school' American Dream of going out west to find untold riches, as thy make their way to California. But because the dream does not really exist, this journey west yields neither riches nor resources.
One would also think that in an Eden, success would be open to all, even those who express themselves differently and are an individual. This, however, is not the case. In this movie, only those who have conformed ever found success; all of the doctors and pageant winners, etc. were the only ones who found success and they are the ones who conformed. They became what other people wanted them to, like the doctor acting the way other people wanting him to, or Miss California looking the way other people want to her. Those who even slightly show individuality do not find success: the gay man, the fat child, the hermit son, the unknown author, the foreign mechanic and waitress. All those who chose to remain an individual in this movie are the ones who never find the success of the American Dream.
The reason the success of the American Dream can never be found by these characters is because as this movie proves, it is non-existent. This is the true problem for the Hoover family. However, they do not realize this and so they continue their futile search for it. But just as all other problems that have faced the Hoovers, the family just runs away. The irony of the situation is that as the family chases the false dream, they run away fro the fact that it does not exist. The Hoovers drive off into the sunset where all that is waiting for them are all the problems that they have not solved, so, all of them.