Olive Hoover, a seven year old girl, has one goal: to win a beauty pageant. Her heroin-addicted grandfather is her coach, and when she becomes a finalist in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, her whole family takes on the road in an old run-down VW. The trip is anything but smooth; her father Richard is struggling to promote his self-help program, with no success, mother Sheryl is trying to simply keep her family happy and together, her brother Dwayne will not to speak until he joins the Air Force academy and, to quote himself, "hates everyone," and her uncle Frank must come with them after attempting suicide when he fell in love with one of his male graduate students. The first in a long run of disasters is the bus breaking down, causing them all to push it to get the trip started. There are MANY more things, however, which hinder Olive's Little Miss Sunshine career.