Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Depression in Little Miss Sunshine

Emily Atashkari
Dublin, Ireland

Frank and Dwayne at the dock. © Twentieth Century Fox. Fair use. 

The 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine1 follows the dysfunctional Hoover family as they journey from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Redondo Beach, California, in their old Volkswagen van to bring seven-year-old Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. One member of the Hoover family is Frank, who has recently attempted suicide. Frank is a Proust scholar, but recent events have caused him to lose control over his life. The man he loves has left him for his academic rival, and Frank has lost his job.

The film explores the theme of family bonding and how this helps each member of the Hoover family find themselves. Initially, they are somewhat hostile to one another and have created barriers between themselves. Eventually, their Volkswagen breaks down and has to be push-started every time the family wants to begin driving again after a stop. “The push-starting of the car throughout the film then forms a cinematic motif of bonding and connection between the family, but also of the physical struggle between individuals and the limitations placed on them seemingly by fate.”2

Frank is not allowed to be left alone, as doctors have ordered him to be on suicide watch. He consequently loses the barriers that he has created to isolate himself.2 As Frank is forced to be in close contact with different members of his family, he gains a new perspective on life and his place in the world. He becomes more open to other people and to new experiences as the film progresses, such as when he enthusiastically cheers, “No one gets left behind! Outstanding, soldier! Outstanding!” as everyone manages to run back into the van after push-starting it. This is a stark contrast from his monotonous lack of expression when he first joins the Hoover family trip. However, while inside a convenience store during the road trip, Frank runs into his old boyfriend, with his academic rival in a car outside. This encounter causes Frank to revert back to his earlier state, closing himself off again from others.

Frank slowly opens up again and breaks down his boundaries as the road trip progresses, as shown when he is “the first of the family to jump out of the van” once they finally reach the pageant.2 Throughout the journey, Frank forms a particularly strong connection with Dwayne, his sister’s son. During the beauty pageant, Frank and Dwayne go to a dock away from the rest of the family. Frank tells Dwayne about Proust, saying that “he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was.”1 Frank is finally able to accept his suffering, realizes that he is supported by his family, and begins to recover from his depressive state. This portrayal in Little Miss Sunshine depicts how depression manifests itself in one’s behaviors and attitudes, and how support and unconditional love can help.


  1. Arndt M. Little Miss Sunshine. Beverly Hills, CA: 20th Century Fox; 2006.
  2. Fowler E. Considering societal, psychological and geographical borders in Dayton & Faris’s 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine. Digital Literature Review 2022;9:58-70. doi:10.33043/dlr.9.1.58-70.

EMILY ATASHKARI is from Toronto, Canada. She is a medical student at Trinity College Dublin. She is an avid traveler and is interested in how art and media can express different aspects of medicine and medical conditions.

Spring 2023



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