Although the two films may appear to be completely unrelated, Little Miss Sunshine could quite possibly be Paul Dano’s Riddler origin story. With The Batman set to bring Paul Dano’s Riddler to the big screen, it’s as yet unclear exactly what the origins of his character are. However, the talented actor’s villain is said to have been based on the real-life Zodiac Killer, so it’s quite clear what sort of man he is.
Despite Dano’s role in Little Miss Sunshine being that of a quiet, frustrated, generally well-meaning teen, it’s entirely possible that the character he plays in The Batman is actually the same person, making Robert Pattinson’s superhero debut a sequel to the 2006 tragicomedy.
To explain the theory, it’s only necessary to examine the general characterization of Dano’s Dwayne. At the beginning of the film, Dwayne has spent six months without speaking a word, due to a vow of silence he’s taken while he prepares to join the Air Force. This shows incredible dedication, but also an unorthodox way of approaching his goals. Dwayne’s intense focus singles him out, even among his own family.
There’s also the relationship Dano shares with Greg Kinnear’s Richard. It’s revealed that Richard is not Dwayne’s father, but his stepdad, and that Dano occasionally visits his biological father. Richard – particularly at the beginning of the film – is an overbearing and borderline emotionally abusive figure who constantly talks about the importance of being the best. This is very much in line with the Riddler as a character, who has complex insecurities about his intelligence which manifest in the constant posing of riddles to everyone around him. Growing up with a figure like Richard, who is constantly talking about the importance of winning and being superior to those around you, it’s not hard to see how Dwayne could grow up struggling with the same ideology and his place within it.
However, the idea that Richard is Dwayne stepfather is also important. While Dwayne’s surname is presumably Hoover (like the rest of his on-screen family), his biological father is absent and unnamed within the film’s story. It’s entirely possible that his father’s surname is Nygma, and that Dwayne grows up to assume that name (perhaps also changing his given name to Edward in order to achieve the “E. Nygma” moniker).
The final pieces of the Riddler/Dwayne puzzle come in the film’s third act. After Dwayne’s dreams to become a pilot come crashing down around him, he begins speaking again, allowing for more of his personality to shine through. He verbally reiterates his previous written feelings: that he hates everyone, including his family. Dwayne’s lack of affection for those around him indicates that he is at risk of becoming some sort of sociopath, very much in line with the villain he obviously grows to become.
He’s also heard eschewing the idea of a more traditional life path – going to school and college and getting a job are all things he dismisses on principle – and this is another hint that Dwayne grows up to be The Batman‘s villain. He shows no inclination to follow societal norms, which, combined with his volatile nature and emotionally abusive upbringing, will undoubtedly create the monster that the Riddler is in The Batman.
As yet, there’s no official connection between the two characters, but the theory is so plausible that it will almost certainly be introduced into The Batman‘s canon.