Like the shambling VW van its hapless characters steer from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, this antic extended sitcom from first-time feature makers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris is a rickety vehicle that travels mostly downhill. When his seven-year-old daughter (Abigail Breslin) gets a surprise slot in a beauty contest, a failed motivational speaker (Greg Kinnear) loads up his squabbling, despondent family to make the 700-mile road trip. The ensemble including Steve Carell as a suicidal Proust scholar, Paul Dano as a mute Nietzsche freak, and Alan Arkin in the thankless role of a foulmouthed, heroin-snorting grandpa works gamely, but this is the latest in a long line of Sundance clunkers that seems to have developed its impression of human behavior from incomplete space transmissions. There are strains of generosity in the script and performances, but the platitudinous payoff winning isn't everything, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, et cetera would go down a lot easier if the movie didn't roam from scene to scene, searching for new characters to patronize.
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