Yes, the delightful comedy Little Miss Sunshine (2006 – rated R) does have funeral film lessons. It shows some of the paperwork involved with death, transporting a body in your own vehicle (illegally) and how prearranged funeral plans can be transferred to other funeral homes. And it starts out in Albuquerque!
Here’s some of the synopsis from IMDb.com:
In Albuquerque, Sheryl Hoover brings her suicidal brother Frank to the breast of her dysfunctional and bankrupted family. Frank a homosexual and expert in Proust, tried to commit suicide when he was rejected by his boyfriend and his great competitor became renowned and recognized as number one in the field of Proust.
Sheryl’s husband Richard is unsuccessfully trying to sell his self-help and self-improvement technique using nine steps to reach success, but he is actually a complete loser. Her son Dwayne has taken a vow of silence as a follower of Nietzsche and aims to be a jet pilot.
Dwayne’s grandfather Edwin (Richard’s father) was sent away from the institution for elders Sunset Manor and is addicted in heroin. When her seven-year-old daughter Olive has a chance to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, California, the whole family travels together in their old Volkswagen bus in a funny journey of hope of winning the talent contest and making a dream come true.
Though Olive is not of the typical pageant ilk (an average-looking, bespectacled child), she adores pageant work and had won second place in a regional contest. During dinner, the family hears a phone message from Olive’s aunt, informing that them that the winner of Olive’s recent pageant had to forfeit, and that Olive now has a place in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California. The challenge: they have to be in Redondo Beach by 3:00 p.m. in two days.
There are lots of adventures on the road the first day. The family checks into a motel somewhere in Arizona for the night; Richard and Sheryl in one room, Frank and Dwayne in another, and Grandpa and Olive in a third.
Olive confesses to Grandpa that she is scared about the pageant the following day. Grandpa, who has been coaching Olive on her dance routine, reassures her that she is a beautiful person and will ‘blow ’em outta the water.” Then he goes into the bathroom to snort some heroin.
Death, Paperwork and Burial Transit Permits
Olive wakes her parents in the morning because “Grandpa won’t wake up.” Edwin is rushed to the hospital where he is pronounced dead. A “bereavement liaison” named Linda comes to the waiting room to go through the paperwork needed to process the death.
“My consolations for your loss,” she begins. “Okay, these are the forms you need to fill out: a death certificate; a report of the death; an ME [Medical Examiner] pink slip, please try and be as detailed as possible; this is a brochure for a grief recovery support group that meets on Tuesdays; and if you like at this time I can refer you to a funeral home so you can begin making your arrangements.”
“Actually,” says Richard, “prearrangements have already been made in Albuquerque. We’re actually on our way to California right now.”
“Albuquerque?” she says. “If the body is crossing state lines you are gonna need a Burial Transit Permit from the County Registrar’s office.”
“Okay, but we’re trying to get to Redondo Beach by three o’clock,” says Richard.
“Three o’clock today? Ain’t gonna happen,” says Linda to herself.
All of those paperwork items, including the Burial Transit Permit, are actual paperwork requirements for death in most states. If you were on a road trip with your family and someone dies en route, would you have all of the needed information available? Key things to know about the deceased: full name, Social Security number, place of birth, mother’s maiden name, and military service information.
After a driver cuts them off on the road the horn on the VW bus won’t stop honking. A state trooper on a motorcycle turns on his siren and lights.
As they are being pulled over, Richard says, “Okay, everybody just pretend to be normal, okay? Like everything’s normal here.”
The trooper nearly uncovers Edwin’s body in the trunk, but is sidetracked by a collection of Grandpa’s porn magazines that falls out first. He lets the family go in exchange for the dirty magazines, and the road trip continues.
Now, if you were transporting a dead body in your vehicle and did not have a Burial Transit Permit to prove you were not involved in some criminal activity, you would be in a heap of trouble. Might want to consider carrying a few distracting porno mags, just in case.
Prearranged Funeral Services
Once they get Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant (barely in time) Richard finds an undertaking service to remove Edwin’s body.
The outfit, Muraoka & Greene “Purveyors of Fine Undertaking,” take Grandpa out of the VW bus and drive away, leaving Richard sadly holding a small box of his father’s personal effects.
One lesson from this scene is that prearranged funerals can be transferred to other funeral homes. I’m guessing they were going to cremate Grandpa and the family would pick up his remains after the Little Miss Sunshine pageant.
If they were going to have a funeral back in Albuquerque, the funeral home would arrange to fly the body back. This would of course incur additional expenses on top of already paid-for goods and services. Body shipment currently may cost in the range of $1,500, more or less, depending on how far the body needs to be shipped.
While sitting in on a prearrangement conference with a client recently, she was offered travel expense insurance to return her body to Albuquerque should she die while away on a trip. The insurance cost a one-time fee of $285. Something to think about if you travel a lot.
Little Miss Sunshine stars Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano and Abigail Breslin. It’s a really funny, heartwarming movie, in addition to its funeral film lessons. Available from Netflix and for sale (as available) on Amazon.com.
About The Author
Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death®, is author of the award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and host of A Good Goodbye TV. She speaks to groups using clips from funny films to illustrate funeral planning issues and help start serious conversations. Her website is www.AGoodGoodbye.com.