Posted: March 24th, 2023

Interpersonal Communication in the Films “The Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Last King of Scotland”

Interpersonal Communication Theory: Social Exchange Theory of Interdependence

Social exchange theory focuses on principles of relationships and social interactions. Human psychology reflects the interactions and structural properties of relationships. The theory represents significant rules and norms that determine how relationships evolve into mutual commitments, loyalty, and trust (Cropanzano and Mitchelle 875). The tenets of the theory hold that individuals behave in their social environment because of their unique experiences, personality, and interdependence. Since the relationship between people is significant, individuals attempt to interact and develop relationships depending on their assessment of the benefits; hence, individuals’ behaviors align with the evaluation of relationships and interactions. 

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Summary of the Films

The film The Little Miss Sunshine is an American tragic comedy depicting a family’s determination to ensure their young daughter gets into the finals of a beauty pageant show. The 2006 film reveals how an overworked mother, Sheryl Hoover, lives in New Mexico. Frank, who is her gay brother, attempts suicide. All family members engage in different activities when Olive learns she qualified for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. The field revolves around family tensions when they embark on a road trip in an old van that exhibits mechanical problems. Although Olive performs in the talent show, she ends up humiliated. The Last King of Scotland is a 2006 historical drama depicting Uganda’s dictator’s brutal actions during the 1970s. It tells a story of the life of the physician of Uganda’s president, capturing the unique relationships between the actors.

Dialectics Theory  

Dialectics theory represents the contractions that emerge in personal relationships. In interpersonal communication, patterns arise among individuals, which help maintain the relationship. The foundation of the theory dwells on the tensions and struggles that emerge in relationships (Maharjan para 1). In the film The Little Miss Sunshine, the anxiety in Sheryl’s family to overcome all odds and ensure Olive performs at the beauty pageant is a testament to tenets of dialectics theory. Similarly, The Last King of Scotland reflects the tension and conflicts that Idi Amin and his doctor exhibit in satisfying Uganda’s dictator’s interest.  Thus, these tensions occur because of people’s relationships in society.  

Social Penetration Theory

Social penetration theory explains the role of information exchange in developing and dissolving interpersonal relationships. The bonding process depends on the principles of communication moving from superficial to intimate engagements (Carpenter and Greene p.1). In The Little Miss Sunshine, the actors’ relationship begins on a level where familiarity before the tragedy and fate makes them develop a more intimate relationship. Also, in The Last King of Scotland, the personal doctors go through bonding with his boss, the president, before they end in bitter exchanges that threaten the dissolution of their relationship.

Knapp Stage Model

The tenets of the Knapp Stage model reveal the extent to which relationships grow and last. Diverse states of life allow people to exhibit different levels of relational maintenance (Avtgis et al. 281). In the two films, characters come together, bond, and integrate through different experiences. The circumstances allow the relationship to grow. The outcome of different relationships in the two films depicts the principles of the Knapp Stage Model, indicating the natural order of interpersonal relationships.

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Hofstede Cultural Dimension 

Hofstede’s cultural dimension indicates people’s ability to share their intercultural diversity. Cultural differences assist individuals from different societies form and develop their relationships to understand each other. Through the dimensions of power distance and hierarchy, people foster their intercultural communications. Cross-culture characterizes people’s interactions with different social backgrounds and cultures (Sun and Liu 10). Different hierarchy issues emerge in the film The Little Miss Sunshine and The Last King of Scotland, where the protagonist’s command authority determines their relationship with other actors.  


Work Cited

Avtgis, Theodore A., Daniel V. West, and Traci L. Anderson. “Relationship stages: An inductive analysis identifying cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimensions of Knapp’s relational stages model.” Communication Research Reports 15.3 (1998): 280-287.

Carpenter, Amanda, and Kathryn Greene. “Social penetration theory.” The international encyclopedia of interpersonal communication (2015): 1-4.

Cropanzano, Russell, and Marie S. Mitchell. “Social exchange theory: An interdisciplinary review.” Journal of Management,  31.6 (2005): 874-900.

Hongning, Sun, and Liu Liu. “Cross-cultural Communication: With a focus on Swedish and Chinese employees.” (2012).

Palistha Maharjan, “Relational Dialectics Theory,” in Businesstopia, February 27, 2018,


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