My favorite character in Little Miss Sunshine is Dwayne. He is quirky and interesting and his personal development and transformation adds so much to the film.
In the beginning, Dwayne has an “I hate everyone” teen angst thing going on which is pretty typical but what’s not so typical is the way he chooses to express it. Taking a vow of silence until he reaches his goal of becoming an Air Force test pilot certainly sets himself apart from typical teens and from his family. It is, on one hand, a very adult/spiritual move, not very teen-like. On the other hand we are reminded that he’s still a teen through his “this isn’t fair” mentality. Perhaps the most interesting thing about him at this point is that while he’s silent he doesn’t avoid or try to hide his feelings—he has more facial expressions than anyone and when his nonverbal skills aren’t enough to express his feelings then his notepad does the trick.
The scene where Dwayne learns he’s color blind and his dream is shattered reveals a major change in his arc and highlights the depth of his character. In this week’s lecture we learned “A character’s qualities are best revealed through events that provide situations for the characters to respond to – and their response is what provides us information about them.” This is Dwayne’s “all is lost” moment and he must decide where to go from here. In one scene he goes through all five stages of grief (Denial/Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance).
His body looks like it’s about to explode, he jumps from the van, runs down the hill and collapses away from his family. He hasn’t spoken in so long that we’re not sure if he will or if so what he’ll say. His explosive “FUCK!” perfectly sums up his feelings. Then, he tells his mom, “You’re not my family! I don’t want to be your family! I hate you fucking people! I hate you! Divorce! Bankrupt! Suicide! You’re losers! You’re fucking losers!” Pointing out the flaws of his family members is his final effort to separate himself before accepting his situation.
Finally, after a soft moment with his little sister Olive, he gains perspective and it is as though all the anger and pain has lifted and drifted off into the ether. He stands back up, brushes himself off, apologizes for his words and actions and goes on with his life, seemingly over it.
After this scene, Dwayne changes dramatically. It’s as though one chapter of his life ended, he grieved then was ready to move on. This transformation shows his character’s strength even more so than the vow of silence. And much like a tragedy can spark an awakening, he was like a new person afterward. He becomes calmer, more open, accepting and loving. And by the end of the film where he’s dancing on stage it is clear that he is ready to embrace life, be a kid again and have fun.