I'm a tad worried to mention much about the plot of Little Miss Sunshine, because it sounds horribly cliche, and not terribly interesting.
Let me try...
A dysfunctional family--each hanging desperately on to some small hope for normalcy--travels across the country in a Mystery Machine look-a-like van so that their daughter can participate in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant.
Yuck. That sounds God-awful.
But it isn't. In fact, Little Miss Sunshine is a very good film that ultimately sends the message that authenticity and originality are important in life.
Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette are parents to Olive, played wonderfully by Abby Breslin. Kinnear works as a D-list motivational speaker, whose "9-Steps to Being a Winner" can't get published because he isn't. Collette's character, Sheryl, is long-suffering and unsure. She knows the family is spiraling into despair, and isn't sure how to stop it.
Olive's older brother, Dwayne, reads, obsessively, books on modern philosophy and is nine-months into a vow of silence. Her grandfather, played wonderfully by Alan Arkin, is in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease. Oh, and he snorts heroin. Daily.
Steve Carell, in a serious, dramatic turn, is Olive's uncle, Frank. Frank recently tried to commit suicide, and is staying with the family while he recovers.
Well, that's at least a little more interesting...
The road trip is really about the group overcoming the obstacles they have placed in their own paths of life, particularly pretenses the family has set up to look like something they aren't. The experience of the Little Miss Sunshine pageant helps them reconsider their place in life, and the importance of authenticity.
Little Miss Sunshine is a bit dark, funny and well written. The dialogue is terrific, and helps make up for some plot events that are a little far-fetched.
Check it out. It's a B- flick.