Little Miss Sunshine – Dialogue and Subtext

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The dinner scene works because there are so many curiously chaotic things happening all at once. What could have been a typical, mundane family dinner is brought to life through a ballet of interesting dialogue and subtext which keeps the viewer intrigued and highly entertained by the ever growing quirkiness of the characters and the story itself. In this week’s lecture, we learned “(subtext) can be used to develop psychological depth in your characters” and “Innuendo and double entendre can also be used to add tension and excitement to a scene.” This scene is loaded with gestures, offbeat comments, odd behavior and innuendo working together to add insight into the characters’ mentalities and motivations. Sheryl trying to juggle everything including her job, family and her brother Frank’s attempted suicide, Frank’s disappointment in himself and his growing interest in Dwayne, Grandpa’s outbursts, Dwayne’s vow of silence and all the silly facial expressions and notes which come with it, Olive’s naivety and unrelenting curiosity over Frank’s “accident” and homosexuality and her overwhelming obsession about becoming Little Miss Sunshine, and Richard’s obsession with winning and his feelings about “losers” and his innuendo that Frank is a loser for giving up on himself all transpires over a bucket of KFC. All of these things contribute to the conflict while working together to add tension and excitement to the scene and brilliantly set up the story and the actions which follow.  

Another scene that is infused with subtext is the one when they get pulled over. Everyone clearly thinks they are about to be busted for having a dead Grandpa in the trunk but instead the dirty magazines pour out and kind of save the day. From Richard’s obvious panic to the rest of the family simply watching the highway patrolman in silence to the trooper’s reaction to the porn magazines, all of it adds more and more tension to the moment.  When the trooper grins and waves to the family trying not to let on about what he thinks is the reason Richard is so freaked out (the magazines) and the family waves back so innocently, as viewers we are hoping for the best for this poor family and we’re locked in to whatever happens next. Then when the trooper sees the “Honcho” magazine, stops grinning and looks at Richard who laughs nervously and offers a look that says “I’m guilty” the whole scene comes together. We don’t need any more action, dialogue or explanation. Watching the trooper drive away is enough. This entire scene pulls the viewer in as though we are in the van with this family. We’re more than just watching passively, we are locked in and invested, and just like any member of the family we are holding our breath as we hope for the best.

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