Ellen Gulden (Renée Zellweger) works as a journalist for New York Magazine and has a great boyfriend, at the request of her father George (William Hurt), Ellen returns home to New Jersey to care for her mother Kate (Meryl Streep), Ellen soon realizes that her parents aren't what that they seem to be.
Tropes in this film:
- The '80s: The movie takes place between summer 1987 and March 1988.
- A Minor Kidroduction: The movie opens on Ellen and her brother Brian when they're 8 and 4 years old.
- Big Applesauce: Most of the film is set in New York City where Ellen works.
- Big, Screwed-Up Family/Dysfunctional Family: The Guldens in spades, for starters Ellen's father George has affairs with his female students, her mother Kate is suffering from terminal cancer and her younger brother Brian is flunking out of college.
- Broken Pedestal: George is implied as this to Ellen after she discovers that he has slept with his younger students.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Ellen confronts her father about his dalliances with his students and his selfish attitude towards her dying mother.
- Christmas Episode: One scene takes place shortly before Christmas.
- Halloween Episode: Ellen and Kate attend a Halloween carnival dressed as a witch and a fortune teller, respectively.