During the opening titles, we are introduced to the kids:
Laser (Josh Hutcherson), a fifteen year old boy who’s skateboarding with his friend Clay, a stereotypical “skater punk; and Joni (Mia Wasikowska), an eighteen year old girl who always plays Scrabble, this time with her two friends, a boy who likes her (and who she likes) and a girl who always talks about sex. Both were born to their lesbian parents thanks to a sperm donor. Come dinnertime, we meet the parents; successful workaholic (and very strict and OCD) doctor Nic (Annette Bening) and free-spirited Jules (Julianne Moore), who is unemployed but takes care of the household and kids and is interested in starting a landscaping business. It is summer, and Joni is about to leave for college.
After dinner, Laser talks to Joni; since she is eighteen now, she has the right to contact her “father”, the sperm donor. Laser seems much more interested in finding him than she is, but she relents and goes to look up the sperm bank information. Meanwhile, Nic and Jules are watching gay man porn in their bedroom.
The next day, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the sperm donor, is working at the restaurant he owns when the sperm bank calls and asks if he agrees to contact his “kids”, Laser and Joni. That night, after having sex with a “friend with benefits” named Tanya, he asks her opinion; she recommends that he meet his kids.
The following day, Joni is playing Scrabble with one of her mums when she gets a call from Paul; they schedule a lunch the next day. (This whole time, the two mums, Jules and Nic, don’t know their kids are meeting Paul, who they’ve never met either.)
At lunch, as the kids talk about themselves, we find out that Laser is a great athlete but sort of without direction (like his birth mother, Jules), while Joni is a dedicated and hardworking academic (like her birth mother, Nic). Afterwards, as Paul drives off on his motorcycle, Laser is obviously disappointed, whereas Joni has totally changed her mind and is enthusiastic about seeing her “father” more often.
Later on, Clay and Laser go to Jules’ and Nic’s bedroom, looking through their stuff. It’s clear that Clay is a troublemaker who is a bad influence on Laser; his parents are worried about Laser hanging out with Clay and actually think they might be gay (but of course they aren’t). Clay and Laser find a porn DVD in a drawer and play it, thinking it’s lesbian porn. Laser’s mums walk in on them watching gay man porn; they have a talk with him and encourage him to tell them about any “special relationships” he has because they think he’s gay; he thinks they’re talking about Paul. When he tells them, they’re quite surprised. As they go to bed, Jules and Nic agree to meet with Paul politely but to keep him out of the family.
Jules and Nic invite Paul over for lunch with the whole family; Paul talks about how free-spirited he was and how he dropped out of college, but eventually became successful doing things his way; it’s clear that Jules likes this attitude, while uptight Nic clearly disapproves. During the lunch, we see Nic drink a lot of wine; it’s never clear if she gets actually drunk in the movie, but she is definitely an alcoholic and lets it affect her temper. Jules mentions that she is starting a landscaping business, and Paul offers to be her first customer. She is reluctant at first but agrees.
Joni and Laser spend more time with Paul, to Nic’s disapproval; Joni often helps Paul with gardening. Paul helps Laser and Clay film skateboard stunts and sees that Clay treats Laser like dirt. Afterwards, he recommends to not hang out with Clay, exactly what Laser’s mums said, but in a “man to man talk” kind of way, so it doesn’t sound like a lecture.
That night, Nic tries to apologize to Jules for being edgy by setting up a candlelight bath. Before she can get in with Jules, she leaves and says she’ll be right back, but ends up on the phone talking about work, leaving Jules frustrated. The next day, when Jules goes to Paul’s house to discuss landscaping, they end up making out before she leaves.
Meanwhile, Clay and Laser are skateboarding when they come across a stray dog. Clay tries to pee on it, but Laser rescues it, causing the two to have a brief fight before Laser looks at him in disgust and walks away. That night, Paul takes Joni home on his motorcycle. Nic freaks out and yells at him.
The next day, Paul and Jules do more landscaping. She tries to convince him (and herself) that she’s not interested in him, but they end up having sex. Later on, Nic and Jules eat at a restaurant with friends (a straight couple); when Jules and the other two talk about organic foods, Nic, who has been drinking a lot of wine, goes on a rant about how she hates eco-friendly stuff and storms off. Nic and Jules get into an argument; Jules says take some time off, but Nic gets bitter and says she can’t because she’s the only one providing an income. Jules, hurt by this, counters by saying this is how Nic wanted it for her to do all the work and Jules to stay at home, because she is a control freak.
Jules and Paul continue to have sex every day, despite Jules’s attempts to end the affair. It’s unclear whether she’s sleeping with him because she actually has feelings for Paul, because she hasn’t been with a man for so long, or because she’s angry at Nic, but it’s clear that Paul is in love with her. Later on, when Tanya offers to have sex, he turns her down, saying he wants to be in a real relationship and have a family.
Meanwhile, Nic again attempts to apologize by offering to take the family to have dinner at Paul’s house. There, she praises all the hard work Jules has been doing (except she hasn’t, because she’s been sleeping with Paul); during dinner, she turns down wine and instead drinks water. Nic and Paul quickly bond over shared interest in music; as she leaves to use the bathroom, Nic seems to have accepted Paul as a friend. Unfortunately, she finds Jules’s hair in the bathroom and quickly realizes the affair but says nothing until they get home. Nic and Jules have a heated argument overheard by their kids.
Jules, who is now sleeping on the couch, attempts to patch things up with Laser and Joni, but neither is interested in talking with her. The kids are also disgusted with Paul; Joni hangs up on him when he calls. At a party, she gets drunk and makes out with her friend that she had been too shy to admit that she liked. When she gets home, her mums start to yell at her for driving drunk, but she yells back that neither have any right to yell at her, since Jules had an affair and Nic is an alcoholic. Meanwhile, Paul calls up Jules and tells her he loves her and asks her to be with him, but she hangs up on him too.
The next day, Joni packs for school. Paul does yard work; alone, since Joni won’t speak with him and Jules feels guilty for sleeping with him. That night, Joni’s last dinner home, the family tries to have a normal dinner but the atmosphere is strained. Hearing the doorbell, Joni answers it to find Paul, who attempts to apologize again but is turned down. Nic runs out to yell at him; Jules leaves the room. Paul looks to Laser, the only person left, for support, but he too leaves the room. Paul leaves in sadness.
After dinner, Nic, Laser, and Joni are watching TV when Jules turns it off and gives the family a big apology and a heartfelt speech, bringing Nic to tears. Except for Paul, everyone seems to be happy again. The next day, the family takes Joni to university; on the way back, Laser jokes about how Nic and Jules should not break up.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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Everyone finds out about the affair Jules (Julianne Moore) and Paul (Mark Ruffalo) had and the family begins to fall apart. Nic (Annette Bening) makes Jules sleep on the couch, and it is uncertain whether or not they will stay together. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) tells Paul she is disappointed that her father couldn't have been a better person, and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) avoids him completely.
Tanya (Yaya DaCosta) comes onto Paul at work for one of their little trysts, but he tells her that he is tired of flings and wants a real relationship. Meeting Joni and Laser showed him how much he wanted a family.
Jules, Nic, and Laser drive Joni to college. She insists that they give her some time by herself in her new dorm. She begins setting herself up but soon runs after her family, only to find that their car is gone. But it turns out that they didn't leave, they had been forced to move the car. Joni gives them all a tearful goodbye, implying that she isn't mad at her parents anymore.
In the car on the way home, Laser tells Jules and Nic that he doesn't think they should break up. They ask why and he jokes that they're too old. They all laugh, and the movie ends as Nic takes Jules' hand, implying that they will stay together.
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