Jennifer Aniston, who was trying to avoid being typecast due to her Friends success, stars as Justine Last, a depressed 30-year-old who lives in a dreary Texas town and works at the local "Retail Rodeo".
Married to the dim-witted Phil (John C. Reilly), and working alongside Gwen (Deborah Rush), the always cheerful older woman, Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel), who tosses obscenities into the announcements, and Corny (Mike White), the security guard who is always trying to get her to go to his bible study, Justine feels that her life is a prison, and she is "on death row".
She starts an affair with the oddball cashier, 22-year old Thomas "Holden" Worther (Jake Gyllenhaal), and slowly, her life begins to unravel.
This film provides examples of:
- Bittersweet Ending: Leans more heavily on the bitter. Nothing has changed in Justine's life: she stays with Phil and remains working at the Retail Rodeo and her life is still at a dead end, but she seems happy with her baby and it seems to have made Phil a doting father, possibly giving her some hope that things will be better.
- Black Comedy: For example, there is the character Gwen who no one likes. After Gwen dies, the manager announces that anyone who feels they need to go home and grieve can so. Everyone in the Retail Rodeo leaves, and they're forced to close for the day.
- Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Holden and Justine, respectively.
- Chekhov's Gun: The blackberries that Gwen offers to Justine. They end up killing Gwen (Due to being infested with parasites), and Justine considers using them to get rid of Holden, but can't bring herself to do so, and throws them away as he eats them.
- Driven to Suicide: Tom kills himself after Justine changes her mind about running away with him and tells her boss that Tom stole the money.
- Good Adultery, Bad Adultery Deconstructed. Phil is a decent guy and he genuinely loves Justine, but his only faults are that he's not too bright and has a pot habit that leaves him a couch potato and the probable reason he's sterile. He gets angry that Justine cheated on him, but forgives her after she tells him that the affair is over and that Phil really is the father of her baby.
- Mistaken for Cheating: In a twist, Corny gets beaten up because Phil believes that he's the other man. (Justine didn't have the heart to confess that it was Holden since Holden is already dead.)
- Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Part of the reason that Justine has her affair with Holden is that he brings excitement to her life.
- Someone to Remember Him By: The baby is actually Holden's, but Justine lets Phil believe he's the father since the baby has dark hair like both of them and despite the fact that Phil is actually sterile.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Justine and Phil. Granted, it's Jennifer Aniston, but she really makes herself very plain and ordinary.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Several particularly horrible ones.
- Would Hit a Girl: Phil hits Justine after realizing she's been having an affair. He feels horrible for hitting her afterwards.
- Your Cheating Heart: One of the main plotlines.