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"There's something funny going on in Washington. Goldie's about to become a diplomat."
Sunny Ann Davis is a seemingly ditzy blonde who works as a cocktail waitress in Washington, D.C. She rents a small room in the home of a gay couple, has a lousy love life and drives a rust bucket of a car that she cannot afford to repair.
The car breaks down, blocking the route of a diplomatic convoy that is traveling to the White House. Unsympathetic to Sunny's predicament, the Diplomatic Security Service treat the incident as a possible security threat and move into full security mode, guns drawn. Sunny is naive to the seriousness of her situation, concerned only that she will now be late for work.
At the Safari Club where Sunny works, her night is getting worse. Her date cancels and she is forced to wear an emu suit because all of the other costumes are now taken by waitresses who arrived on time. She hates the costume because it invites unwanted sexual propositions. Even though she is "so broke," she refuses an offer from a patron requesting special "favors" in return for cash, as well as a loan from a waitress friend, Ella.
On her way home, Sunny is curious about the media attention surrounding a gala dinner, so she stops to watch the dignitaries leaving the event. A man of Middle Eastern descent rudely pushes past her. Sunny feels something hard in his coat pocket. She asks if he has a gun. To her horror, he does. A shot is fired, but Sunny prevents him taking aim at his target by biting his arm. In the ensuing commotion, both Sunny and the gunman are forced to the ground and another shot is fired. Sunny cries out, realizing she has been shot.
Through news media reports, we learn that Sunny has been taken to the hospital and is being lauded as a heroine. She has prevented the assassination of a visiting Emir, who had been in Washington to further relations between the US and his "small, but strategic Middle Eastern country." Doctors remove a bullet from Sunny's left buttock. While recovering, she finds herself thrust into public adoration, receiving mail from celebrities and countless marriage proposals.
Michael Ransome, a Middle Eastern desk chief from the State Department, pays a visit to help Sunny get through her first press conference since the shooting. Sunny answers each question about her life with humor and charm, revealing herself to be hugely likeable, intelligent and patriotic. She also reveals that she has never voted, preferring to consider herself as just an American, rather than any political label.
Back at the White House, politicians Crowe and Hilley are watching the conference. They joke that if Sunny is to be believed, she could run for office because of her appeal to so many large groups of voters, including working women, small town folk, senior citizens, gays, the "law-and-order bunch," baseball fans, barflys and animal lovers. They contact the President of the United States (who is napping during this most important speech), and arrange for him to call Sunny at the hospital.
The Emir whose life Sunny saved was being wooed by the US, which wants to establish a military base in his country because of its ideal geographic location in the Middle East. He decides that he will allow the US to build its base in his country — on the proviso that they allow him to claim Sunny as another wife. Without the President's knowledge, the State Department decides to trade Sunny for the base without her knowledge.
The Vice President of the United States offers her a job within the Protocol Department of the Government. She has to look up what "protocol" means in a dictionary, but when she realizes he is offering her a well-paying job, she accepts.
Sunny approaches her new job with nervous excitement, She attends formal dinners and meets dignitaries from foreign countries. At one dinner, she is introduced to Nawaf Al Kabeer, who thanks Sunny on behalf of the Emir, and presents a car to her, as a thank-you gift from the Emir. She returns it, having researched that as a government employee, she is unable to accept gifts. But this act infuriates both the Emir and the State Department.
Sunny is unaware that in the Emir's country, the local population is aware that Sunny is to be a new Queen, and anger is growing. Sunny is told that the Emir wants to meet her personally, and that she is to "show him a good time." She looks upon this invitation as a way to help her old boss Lou (Kenneth Mars) by arranging a party at his failing Safari Club, where she used to work. Lou has not closed the bar to his regular patrons and Sunny has invited friends of her own. The party gets out of control, the Police make arrests and all of this is filmed by the media.
Ambassador St. John sees this as a perfect opportunity to finally make the trade. She tells Sunny to go with the Emir to "represent her country" and make amends. Sunny arrives in the Emir's country to find a painted mural of herself in wedding attire. She realizes it's a set-up, that she was traded so the US could build its base.
The Emir confirms this. Unable to produce sons, he needs a new wife. Before an angry Sunny can respond, a violent coup d'état takes place in the Emir's country of Otah, and the two are forced to flee.
Back in the US, the government denies knowledge of the trade and the public is now questioning whether Sunny knew all along of the plan. She must also face a Congressional inquiry to find out the truth. Ransome quits his job in disgust at what was done to Sunny.
At the inquiry, Sunny cuts the proceedings short by accepting blame, having taken an important job without fully understanding the political affairs of her country. But she reminds everyone that leaders have a responsibility toward the people. She warns the political powers in the room that, from now on, she will watch all of them "like a hawk."
Two years later, Sunny has married Ransome and they have a baby. She is also running for Congress in her hometown of Diamond Junction in Oregon, and gets a call telling her that she has won.