The film begins with media attention surrounding Casey Brodsky's (Drew Barrymore) decision to divorce her parents and have her nanny, Maria Hernandez (Hortensia Colorado), appointed as Casey's legal guardian, which results in her parents, Albert (Ryan O'Neal) and Lucy (Shelley Long) Brodsky, both being brought out of their respective self-absorbed lives and made to testify in court about their personal lives. Much of the film is presented as flashbacks.
At a truck stop in Indiana on the night of January 20th, 1973, film professor Albert Brodsky is hitchhiking across the country, where he gets picked up by Lucy van Patten, a woman who has ambitions of writing books, particularly for children, but her fiancé "Bink," a gruff Navy man, represses her, and she is depressed about being relegated to the life of a military wife. Through getting to know Albert, Lucy loosens her inhibitions, breaks off her engagement to Bink, and marries Albert shortly afterwards.
The couple moves to California, where Albert attaches himself to a famed Hollywood producer, who entrusts him to film a romantic script the producer has kept shelved for a long time. When Albert suffers from writer's block about the romance, Lucy aids him with her writing skills. The film becomes a box office hit and garners him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, but cracks are forming in Albert and Lucy's marriage, particularly since Albert was slow to credit Lucy for the screenplay and he is frequently traveling to places such as Cannes, France, while leaving his daughter in the care of Lucy, or more often Maria, their maid. When Albert sees a young woman named Blake Chandler (Sharon Stone) working at a hot dog stand, he takes her home and casts her in his next movie, which becomes a moderate success. When Lucy sees signs that Albert is interested in Blake for more than just acting, she divorces him, further troubling Casey. Albert ensures that Lucy gets custody of Casey, while he lives in a Hollywood mansion with Blake.
A turning point occurs when Lucy, angered both at Albert's procrastination in paying child support and at the sight of a sloppy, overweight woman in a supermarket buying the same comfort food as she is, hurries home and channels her anger into writing a tell-all novel. Meanwhile, Albert's producers are warning him not to attempt his musical remake of Gone with the Wind, which he is calling Atlanta. But Albert ignores their advice, and his budget for the picture skyrockets, mainly because of his own perfectionist attitude and Blake's diva-like behavior on set. Atlanta becomes an embarrassing box office bomb, costing Albert any assignments in Hollywood and causing Blake to desert him. Meanwhile, Lucy's novel becomes a runaway success, allowing her to buy and move into Albert's former mansion, and she begins to morph into a diva.
There is a final confrontation in which Albert and Lucy quarrel in front of Casey about her custody, which degenerates into a literal tug of war with each parent pulling on one of Casey's arms, ignoring her pained protests. That is the final straw for Casey, who then decides to divorce both her parents.
The film then returns to the courtroom, where Casey gives testimony that just because two parents no longer love each other, that does not give them the right to ignore their children. Both Albert and Lucy break down in tears. Maria is given legal custody of Casey.
The film ends months later With Casey still living with Maria and her family. Albert seems to be doing better now getting modest but regular work directing TV commercials and sitcoms and is being considered to direct a B movie and Lucy has returned to her more down to earth personality. Both Lucy and Albert arriving at Maria's house for visitation with Casey at the same time by mistake, and all deciding to go out to eat together at a family restaurant, suggesting there is now a more peaceful, though decidedly bittersweet, relationship among the three.Ryan O'Neal as Albert Brodsky
Shelley Long as Lucy Van Patten Brodsky
Drew Barrymore as Casey Brodsky
Sam Wanamaker as David Kessler
Allen Garfield as Phil Hanner
Sharon Stone as Blake Chandler
Beverlee Reed as Dotty Chandler
Hortensia Colorado as Maria Hernandez
David Graf as Bink
Charles Shyer and Nancy Myers had written and produced Private Benajmin. The success of that movie enabled Shyer to direct this.
"I love the movie," said Ryan O'Neal. "So I did it for no salary, just points. It was made for under $6 million, so they didn't have the money to pay us. Still, I think it's some of my best work. Maybe I should work like that more often."
The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics, as it currently holds a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes.Nominated - Best Actress - Comedy or Musical (Shelley Long)
Nominated - Best Supporting Actress (Drew Barrymore)