Little Miss Sunshine: A Winning Script!


We’re already at week 3 of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon. Wow! Time is flying! This week theme’s is “The crafts”. Participants will explore stuff such as costumes, music, special effects cinematography, etc. On my side, as an ex-screenwriting student, I’ve decided to explore this area and write about Little Miss Sunshine‘s screenplay. It won the Oscar in 2007.


I’ve always preferred classics to contemporary movies, but there are some exceptions and Little Miss Sunshine is one of them. This hilarious comedy is not only my 7th favourite film of all times, but also my favourite film of the 21st century. I saw it so many times, but never get tired to. The reason why this is so excellent and entertaining is precisely due to its unbeatable script. This one was written by Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, Hunger Games: Catching FireStar Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens). 

Little Miss Sunshine has a very creative story. Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) has been selected to participate to a beauty pageant contest that will take place at Redondo Beach, California: The Little Miss Sunshine contest. Olive lives in Albuquerque, New-Mexico, with her rather original family: her father, Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) believes “there are two kinds of people in this world: winners and losers”. There are 9 steps to understand that. Her mother, Cheryl (Toni Collett) is overstrained and constantly has arguments with her husband. Cheryl’s son from a previous marriage, Dwayne (Paul Dano), has made a vow of silence: he won’t talk until he’ll reach his dream of being a test pilot. Cheryl’s homosexual brothers, Frank (Steve Carell), is welcomed in the family after having been admitted to the hospital (he tried to commit suicide, but, fortunately, he failed it). Finally, Richard’s father (Alan Arkins) known has “Grandpa”, is an old heroinoman obsessed with sex. This might be  a quite peculiar family, but I swear it’s certainly one of the most entertaining of movie history. The only solution for Olive to participate to this contest is that all the family goes with her. That would be quite an adventure!

Before going further, let me advise you that this article contains spoilers. This is not in my normal habits, but as I’ll discuss the script in its entirety, it’s hard to avoid.

For the sake of this article, I’ve returned to my old student habits and decided to read the original script as well, just to notice what were the difference between it and the final film. There aren’t many, but some details can be noticed: in the original script, it’s the Harvey and not the Hoover, some dialogue were deleted from the original script, some moments were put at different places. In the original script, they live in Maryland, not in New-Mexico. Olive is described as the tallest among the Little Miss Sunshine participants (it’s the opposite in the film). In the original screenplay, there’s a scene when Dwayne and his uncle Frank swim in the ocean at Redondo Beach. Richard Hoover compares the Little Miss Sunshine Official to Eva Braun, but this was deleted in the final product. But these are just some little details and their modifications don’t change a lot to the film. As a matter of fact, I think the final product is better and it’s this that won the Oscar. So, that’s what we’ll focus on today. As a matter of fact, the most important difference between the original screenplay and the final one is the ending: in the original one, the film was supposed to end with a picnic scene after the Hoover had left the contest. This scene has been deleted from the film, but you can see it in the special features on the DVD.

Little Miss Sunshine has every ingredients to be a winning screenplay. We’ll start with the characters. I love how they are introduced to us at the beginning of the film: starting with Olive who is watching a beauty pageant contest on television with a great intensity. We then move to Richard Hoover, who his presenting his “nine steps programs” to a rather small number of people. Then, Dwayne is presented to us. He’s doing some strengthening exercises and crosses a date on a calendar (we’re later discover why). We immediately know that Grandpa is an heroinoman has he is introduced to us inhaling this white powder. Cheryl is introduced to us as a stressed woman and, finally, the title appears “LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE” as we are introduced to a very unhappy uncle Frank. It’s hard to choose who is our favourite character because they all have something unique. The film wouldn’t be the same without one of them.


What’s very interesting to see about those characters are their evolution. In a great screenplay, the characters don’t necessarily have to change, but an evolution has to be considered. They have to “learn something” in a way. The Hoover family has to face many problems, but, in the end, this journey will make them realize that what matters the most is that they can count on each other and they all are stronger together even if some of them can first deny that (Dwayne “hates everyone“…). This is even more important in a road movie, because this type of film doesn’t only present a physical travels, but also a “spiritual” one.  In other words, the evolution of the character becomes even more important in a road movie. All along the film, we learn to know and appreciate each one of these characters. Richard Hoover can annoy us at first, but he’s probably the one who will learn the most out of this adventure. Grandpa seems crazy, but he has a great heart. Frank seems desperate, but, somehow, he’ll learn to have fun in this adventure. Dwayne will have to face a great disappointment, but he’ll learn that giving up isn’t necessarily the best solution. Olive is NEVER ready to give up. She’s a courageous little girl. Cheryl will make understand to her family how they are important to her.

Little Miss Sunshine‘s screenplay also includes a bunch of unforgettable lines: funny, wise, touching, memorable ones, etc. Of course, reading the script was much enjoyable because of these. The dialogues in this films are unique and, added to the originality of its characters, the result is nothing but perfect. As examples, here are some of my favourite lines from the film. There are many, but it’s hard to choose just a few!

1- Grandpa:  A real loser is someone who’s so afraid of not winning he doesn’t even try.

2- Olive: I’d like to dedicate this to my grandpa, who showed me these moves.

 Pageant MC: Aww, that is so sweet.

[Audience applauds]

 Pageant MC: Is he here? Where’s your grandpa right now?

Olive: In the trunk of our car.

3- Richard: Oh my God, I’m getting pulled over. Everyone, just… pretend to be normal.

4-  Richard: Sarcasm is the refuge of losers.

Frank : [sarcastically] It is? Really?

Richard : Sarcasm is losers trying to bring winners down to their level.

Frank : [sarcastically] Wow, Richard, you’ve really opened my eyes to what a loser I am. How much do I owe you for those pearls of wisdom?

Richard : Oh, that ones on the house.

5- Grandpa [to Dwayne]: Dwayne? That’s your name right? Dwayne?

6- Richard Hoover: There’s two kinds of people in this world: winners and loosers

7- Frank [after they have pushed the car]: No one gets left behind! No one gets left behind! Outstanding soldier!

8- [ in the Van]:

Frank: [reading Dwayne’s notepad] “Where’s Olive?”…

Sheryl: Oh!

9-  Pageant Assistant Pam: [as Dwayne walks by] Are you authorized to be here?

Dwayne: No.

10-  Officer Martinez: Okay, you’re out. On the condition that you never enter your daughter in a beauty pageant in the state of California, ever again. Ever.

Frank: I think we can live with that.

11- Frank: Good night Dwayne.

Dwayne: [scribbles on notepad] Don’t kill yourself tonight.

Frank: Not on your watch Dwayne. I wouldn’t do that to you.

Dwayne: [on notepad] Welcome to hell.

Frank: Thanks Dwayne. Coming from you that means a lot.

12- Grandpa:  Every night it’s the fucking chicken! Holy God Almighty! Is it possible just once we could get something to eat for dinner around here that’s not the goddamned fucking chicken?

13- Olive [takes off her head phones and grandpa suddenly puts a pauses to his ongoing swearing] What are you guys talking about?

Grandpa: Politics.

14- Frank:  Have I mentioned that I am the preeminent Proust scholar in the US?


Of course, a great screenplay doesn’t only need great lines, but also great moments. This mission was perfectly accomplished by Michael Arndt. I’ve already talked about the characters’ introduction at the beginning of the film, but there are many more unforgettable moments in this film.  These one are numerous: the scene when they have to push the van to make it move, when the “kidnap” dead’s grandpa at the hospital (how death can become funny…), this heartbreaking scene when Dwayne learns he’s colourblind, this hilarious scene when they are stopped by the police because the van’s horn is stoked and won’t stop to honk and, of course, Olive’s dancing number who’ll surprise everyone. But there is much more. As a matter of fact, the film itself is one big unforgettable moment.

I think you’ll all agree to watch some of these moments…

Apart from its excellent screenplay, Little Miss Sunshine also won the Best Supporting Actor’s Oscar (for Alan Arkin) and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Abigail Breslin). Too bad it didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar. In my opinion, it deserved it more than The Departed. That could have been another interesting thing to write about for the Oscar Snub week.

I hope that you have all seen the film as it is so wonderful. Next step, I highly encourage you to read the script. It’s a nice read and it doesn’t take too long:

Little Miss Sunshine’s Script

To read more about this week’s Oscar theme (the crafts), I invite you to take a look at the other entries:

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: The Crafts

Also, a big thanks to Once Upon a Screen, Paula’s Cinema Club and Outspoken and Freckled for being our awesome blogathon’s hostess.


8 thoughts on “Little Miss Sunshine: A Winning Script!

  1. Little Miss Sunshine is proof that a film with basic plot, but a brilliant script can be exceptional.
    I first came across it on tv late one night and didn’t expect it to be great, but I was blown away. It’s heartwarming, sad and funny, and has one of the single greatest dance routines in any film ever. One of the funniest scenes in recent years.


  2. excellent review, Virginie. It is a very funny comedy with great performances. I’m glad Alan Arkin finally got his Oscar. One critic had talked about how many American movies deal with road trips- Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, Something Wlid and many others.

    Liked by 1 person

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