This offbeat comedy was hailed at Sundance, snapped up by Fox Searchlight, and given a blue-chip publicity campaign, developments that seem wildly out of sync with its warm regard for the underdog. A fractious family of misfits piles into an ailing VW bus and sets off for California so the youngest (Abigail Breslin) can compete in a children's beauty pageant; suffering each other along the way are her irascible grandfather (Alan Arkin), suicidal uncle (Steve Carell), Nietzsche-obsessed teenage brother (Paul Dano), beleaguered mom (Toni Collette), and abrasive dad (Greg Kinnear), a motivational speaker whose nine-step program for success constantly aggravates the others' sense of failure. As scripted by Michael Arndt, this isn't much more than a glorified sitcom, but it deftly dramatizes our conflicting desires for individuality and an audience to applaud it. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris directed. R, 102 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Landmark's Century Centre, River East 21.