Over Labor Day weekend in 1987, depressed, single mother Adele Wheeler (Winslet) and her teenage son Henry head to a local store, where Henry encounters Frank Chambers (Brolin), a wounded, fearsome man covered in blood who asks him for a ride. Adele, initially apprehensive, feels compelled to save her son and reluctantly agrees to take him back to their house. They discover that Frank is a criminal on the run, who promises to leave, staging that he kidnapped them. He cooks them dinner, then stays for the night.
The following day, Frank helps out around the house, teaching Henry how to throw a baseball. After he teaches them to bake a peach pie, Adele and Henry become intoxicated by him and urge him to stay.
Henry meets a girl, who plants in his mind that Adele and Frank will leave him. After Adele assures him that they'll be together, and the three of them toy with the idea of being a family, the police chase heats up.
- Absurdly Youthful Mother: Adele looks very young to have a 13-year-old son. This is intentional, as the novel describes her as a beautiful women who kept her figure, whilst all the other mothers are showing their age.
- Babies Make Everything Better: Strongly averted. Adele has three miscarriages and one stillbirth, which leads to her husband divorcing her. Frank is raped and loses both his partner and child on the same day, leading to his wrongful time in jail.
- Ambiguous Situation: Did Evelyn recognize Frank and call the cops on him in the end? Was the cop who dropped off Henry suspicious and alerted the other officers about them? Or did Henry's note to his father make him suspicious enough to call the police? A bit of each or something else entirely?
- The Baby Trap: Mandy rapes Frank, cheats on him and possibly pretends her baby is his.
- Bittersweet Ending: Frank is found out before him, Adele and Henry can escape, and is sent back to prison, but before he is arrested he is sure to tie up the two of them to pretend they were hostages of his, getting them off the hook for aiding and abetting. Unfortunately as such they are unable to testify to his good character without risking aiding and abetting charges. Many years later, when Frank is finally to be let out of prison, he writes to an adult Henry asking for permission to reunite with Adele to share the remainder of their twilight years together, to which Henry gladly gives his blessing.
- Coming of Age Story: Follows Henry and his journey into adolescence.
- Doesn't Know Their Own Child: Gerald is remarried, and has another child, and only spends Sundays with Henry. Consequently, he doesn't know much about Henry.
- Hands-On Approach: When Frank teaches Adele and Henry to bake the pie, he grabs their hands to feel the ingredients.
- Hormone-Addled Teenager: Henry, at 13, begins developing feelings for girls and has thoughts about kissing and sex.
- Hunk: Frank.
- Lonely Together: What bonds Adele and Frank. Same with Henry and Eleanor.
- Mama Bear: Although Adele suffers from depression, she is so fiercely protective of her son.
- Once Done, Never Forgotten: Frank's actions caused him to be charged with murder, instead of the more reasonable manslaughter. He is unfairly judged by the town when he escapes.
- Parental Substitute: What Frank eventually becomes for Henry.
- Parents as People: Because Adele doesn't leave the house much, her relationship with Henry becomes less of a parent and child, and more like two housemates.
- Playing Catch with the Old Man: Henry plays ball with Frank, announcing that "when Frank threw the ball, I hit it."
- Struggling Single Mother: Adele is a single-mother to Henry, and suffers from severe depression. Despite this, her son always comes first for her, and she is an incredible mother.
- The Talk: Gerald says it's time for Henry to have this with him.
- Tragic Stillbirth: Adele, after a string of miscarriages, almost delivers her baby. The doctor's somber faces following the delivery demonstrate to Adele that the baby didn't make it.
- Through Their Stomach: Adele and Henry begin to admire Frank after he cooks breakfast.
- Wham Line: Well, more wham sound. The sound of blaring sirens as Frank is almost ready to leave with Adele and Henry.
- You Are Worth Hell: "I'd take 20 more years just to spend another 3 days with you."