The boys (Robert Downey, Jr. and Kiefer Sutherland) hitchhike home from college, arriving on Easter morning and shout their greetings across the glen to their family during a lakeside Easter Sunrise service, much to the amusement of Ralph's younger sister, Beth (Winona Ryder), and mother, Ev (Joanna Cassidy), and embarrassment of Scott's mother, Jessie (Mariette Hartley), and father, Cliff (Bruce Dern). Later that day, they drive Scott's older brother, Alden, who's shipping off to Vietnam, to the bus depot; Alden pushes Scott when Scott says that his Marine brother is afraid to go to Vietnam. They begin fighting until their father arrives wondering what is going on.
A few weeks later, Scott and Ralph again return home from college to attend Beth's high school graduation, where they learn that Alden has disappeared and is considered Missing in Action. Scott learns that Ralph has flunked out of college (thus making him eligible to be drafted). Ralph and Scott hatch a plan to steal their files from the local draft board office, but they are caught, and Ralph is arrested.
Scott is now determined to avoid Ralph's fate and plans to leave town and head to Canada to avoid the draft. Scott invites Beth to travel in his van on his trip out of town and to stay away until the end of the war. They admit their attraction to each other. Later, the two decide to visit Ralph in jail to tell him that they are leaving.
Scott and Beth get to the Canada–US border and are about to cross but have a change of heart and head back to Maryland. When they get home, they learn of Alden's death. Scott leads a huge march downtown in the midst of Alden's funeral, where Ralph is released from jail and the two friends are reunited.Robert Downey, Jr. as Ralph Carr
Kiefer Sutherland as Scott Denny
Bruce Dern as Cliff Denny
Mariette Hartley as Jessie Denny
Winona Ryder as Beth Carr
Joanna Cassidy as Ev Carr
Critics shared some mixed feelings about the movie. Overall, the film received a 55% ("Rotten") rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 11 critic reviews. Rita Kempley of The Washington Post wrote, "[The film] 1969, the directorial debut of Ernest Thompson, is an aimless drama, its purpose and promise lost in a thicket of false endings and a fog of nostalgia". The New York Times' Janet Maslin described how "Mr. [Bruce] Dern, unusually laconic here, is unexpectedly moving as the character who seems most confused by changing times. Finally, Variety said, "Affecting memories and good intentions don't always add up to good screen stories, and such is the case in 1969, one of the murkiest reflections on the Vietnam War era yet, notwithstanding good performances all around and bright packaging of Kiefer Sutherland and Robert Downey, Jr. in the leads."
The film was a box office bomb, grossing $5,979,011 against a $37 millon budget.
The film's soundtrack consists of original period rock. However, it also includes a notable re-recording of The Youngbloods' classic hit "Get Together", performed as a solo by Youngbloods lead singer, Jesse Colin Young.