Dan Burns is a newspaper advice columnist and a widower struggling to raise three headstrong daughters. The four of them are preparing to drive from suburban New Jersey to coastal Rhode Island for the annual Burns family get-together. Dan manages to anger each of his daughters in turn over the course of the preparations and the long drive. The morning after the little family arrives at Dan's parents' house, Dan's mother sends him into town so his daughters can have some space. While in town, Dan meets a woman named Marie. The two of them hit it off immediately and talk for a long time, until Marie gets a phone call and realizes she's almost late to go meet her new boyfriend's family.
Once back at the house, Dan mentions to his brother Mitch that he "met somebody," at which point Mitch introduces Dan to his new girlfriend... who turns out to be Marie. Dan now has to keep his attraction to Marie a secret, and over the next three family-activity-filled days, awkwardness ensues, along with some hilarity.
This film provides examples of:
- Arc Words: "In just three days."
- Cannot Spit It Out: The reason Dan is in this mess in the first place.
- Chekhov's Skill: Jane's driving skills wind up being necessary for Dan to reach Marie at the end.
- The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: The advice columnist's children are driving him crazy.
- Corpsing: When Dan places the towel over his face while trying to avoid looking at Marie in the shower, Juliette Binoche breaks into laughter.
- Dinner and a Show: During the first big family dinner of the Burns clan get-together, Dan starts saying, um, less-than-complimentary things about Mitch's past relationships...
- Drives Like Crazy: Dan gets three traffic violations in three days.
- Feminine Women Can Cook: Marie is "an expert maker of pancakes."
- Fourth Date Marriage: Dan falls unbearably in love with Marie over the course of three days, but at the same time he lampshades how unrealistic it is. The marriage at the end presumably takes place at a later date, though.
- Happily Married: Dan's parents, Poppy and Nana Burns. Dan and Marie at the end
- Hello Again, Officer: "Put it on my tab."
- Hollywood Old: Ruthie "Pig Face" Draper, an acquaintance from Dan's school days is played by Emily Blunt who is almost 21 years younger than Steve Carell who plays Dan and is less than three years older than Allison Pill who plays Dan's eldest daughter Jane.
- possibly justified as its implied Ruthie has had a lot of work done.
- Ladykiller in Love: Mitch.
- Love Makes You Dumb: Dan is usually an asset in the men vs. women crossword puzzle competition, but his brain doesn't seem to be working right after he finds out Marie is dating his brother.
- It also seems to factor into his various traffic mishaps throughout the movie.
- Magic Plastic Surgery: Ruthie "Pig-Face" Draper, an acquaintance from Dan's school days who is now... a (very hot) plastic surgeon.
- Most Writers Are Writers: Dan is an advice columnist. Doubles as One-Hour Work Week as the entire movie takes place over his vacation, so we never actually see him work, save for him dictating his latest column at the end via voiceover.
- Overprotective Dad: Dan, two of whose daughters are teenagers (Jane is 17, Cara is 14, Lilly is 9), one of whom is caught in the throes of young love...Cara: "You don't have to worry, because when it comes to sex, Marty is the one who wants to wait."Dan: "What part of that sentence is supposed to give me comfort?!"
- Pair the Spares: Mitch ends up dating Ruthie.
- Playing Gertrude: Dianne Weist plays the mother of Steve Carrell, despite being only 14 years older than him, and the grandmother of Allison Pill, despite the fact that she would only be 37 years old in real life when she was born.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "YOU! ARE A MURDERER! OF! LOVE!"
- Sibling Triangle: Dan didn't know Marie was dating his brother, Mitch, before he fell for her.
- Watching the Reflection Undress: Dan is hiding in the shower when Marie starts to undress. He tries to avert his eyes, but ends up looking at a reflection of her.
- You Need to Get Laid: In a super-awkward scene where everyone's trying to figure out why Dan's been acting so weird, one cousin explains (in detail) that this must be the reason.