The story centers around the romance of Nicole Oakley (Dunst), the troubled daughter of a U.S. Congressman (Bruce Davison), and Carlos Nuñez (Hernandez), a studious Mexican American from a working-class background. It is largely set at Palisades Charter High School and the surrounding area, including Downtown Los Angeles, Pacific Palisades, Malibu (where Nicole lives), and East Los Angeles (where Carlos lives).
The following tropes are found in this film:
- Bare Your Midriff: Nicole almost always wears clothing revealing this.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Nicole has this: her mother committed suicide when she was just twelve and she's had problems ever since.
- Dating What Daddy Hates: Surprisingly averted. If anything, Nicole's father asks Carlos to stay away from his daughter because out of concern that she'll bring him down (as he had ambitions for the Air Force and she's been a troublemaker for quite some time.)
- Falling-in-Love Montage: A pretty memorable and sweet one, set to David Gray's "This Year's Love".
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Nicole and Carlos.
- Wicked Stepmother: Played with; while Nicole's stepmother isn't too affectionate with her and prefers her baby to her, it can also be looked at as her being simply exasperated by all the trouble she's gotten into.