Carnelle Scott lives in the decrepid home of her deceased aunt in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Tired of her reputation in town as "Miss Hot Tamale," she joins a church and invites an orphan to dinner every week. Best of all, she's entered the Miss Firecracker Contest which is held annually over the Fourth of July holiday. Her cousin Elain, who won the contest in 1972, is coming from Atlanta where she now lives with her husband to give a speech entitled "My Life As a Beauty." Her other cousin, who's just been released from a mental institution, has come back to Yazoo City with hopes of selling the family homestead.

Miss Firecracker is based on Beth Henley's 1984 play. At the core of this comedy is the author's weird sense of humor and her compassionate view of human fraility. Carnelle wants to be crowned Miss Firecracker so that she can leave Yazoo City in what she calls "a blaze of glory." Among her solid supporters are Popeye, a bug-eyed seamstress who designed her costume, and Sam, a friend who works the carnival and likes Carnelle because she's the kind of person who can "take it on the chin." Director Thomas Schlamme coaxes exuberant performances from Holly Hunter, Mary Steenburgen, Tim Robbins, Alfre Woodard, and Scott Glenn as these lovable and loony characters seek redemption, liberation from bad dreams, and a place where they can be accepted for who they are. Miss Firecracker ends on an optimistic note by blessing those who despite the odds ride waves of hope.