In the summer of 1965, Lucille (MELANIE GRIFFITH), a flamboyant and possibly eccentric 34-year-old woman, has just killed and decapitated Chester, her abusive husband of thirteen years. Wishing to pursue her dream of becoming a Hollywood actress, she drops off her seven young kids with her mother and heads off to the west coast, making her 13-year-old nephew and confidant, Peejoe (LUCAS BLACK), promise not to tell anyone where she's going.
Due to the influx of children in the home, Peejoe and his brother Wiley (DAVID SPECK) are sent off to live with their aunt Earlene (CATHY MORIARTY) and uncle Dove (DAVID MORSE), the later of whom runs the small Alabama town's funeral home. There, they see the civil rights movement in action, as a black teenager, Taylor Jackson (LOUIS MILLER), ignites the fuse on a racial powder keg by demanding to be allowed to swim in a public pool.
When they're refused admittance, Jackson and his buddies stage a sit-in, causing the pool managers to call Sheriff John Doggett (MEAT LOAF) and his deputies to the scene. Pandemonium breaks out, and in the process Doggett catches and yanks Jackson from a fence, sending him crashing to his death below on the hard concrete, with Peejoe being the only white witness to this act.
Soon Dove and Taylor's father, Nehemiah (JOHN BEASLEY) try to figure out how to remove Doggett from his seat of power, but worry that Peejoe might receive the brunt of rising racial tension in the town. As this occurs and with Doggett pledging to send her to the electric chair once caught, Lucille, after some more criminal activity and a winning stint in Las Vegas, makes it to Hollywood.
There, with Chester's head (voice of BRENT BRISCOE) still in tow and verbally tormenting her, she meets an agent, Harry Hall (ROBERT WAGNER). He takes her under his wing and gets her a TV gig, inspiring some jealousy from movie actress Joan Blake (ELIZABETH PERKINS). As her star rises, suspicions mount about what she's carrying in her hatbox, while at the same time the conflict between Doggett and Dove and Peejoe continues back in the deep South.