The Little Miss Sunshine of the twenty-teens is a wet dream for a certain kind of liberal: a family that is smart, good-looking, self-reliant, and self-aware; in which the eight-year-old knows both the content and the significance of the Bill of Rights, and the eighteen-year-old has his pick of Ivy League schools but chooses to go to Namibia; in which a Lolita-reading teenager unironically asks what is Coca-Cola, and gets poison water as an answer; in which the fireside homeschool-assigned reading session (Guns, Germs, and Steel; Brothers Karamazov; The Fabric of the Cosmos) breaks for a family drum circle.

Sadly, mom kills herself while hospitalized for depression far away in New Mexico, a road trip ensues, thoughts, feelings, and inadequacies of their lifestyle are exposed. The setup is better than the second act, during which 1) the captain of the freshly single-parent household is predictably un-fantastic, and 2) the middle-crassness of his extended family is blown out of all proportion. The payoff is better — if nothing else, it will make its New Yorker-reading audience think.

Vigo Mortensen was, apparently, destined to be in this movie. The question is: wouldn’t it have been better — and truer to its message — as a book?

Directed by Matt Ross, 2016