Elliot (Costner) is in an office building on the phone discussing funeral arrangements. His wife has died. He’s talking to his colleague/friend Rick about what happened and he tries to offer him support. He goes home alone and drinks himself to sleep. In the morning he hides the bottle as his granddaughter Eloise, who is African American, knocks on the door and asks where her grandmother is. He tells her he will take her to school and to finish getting ready.
He sees visions of his daughter and attempts to brush Eloise’s hair, but is unsuccessful. She is very cute and they are having difficulty as he tries to do her hair, get her ready, and then take her to school, as he gets lost on the way.
While Eloise is at school, guests are over the house to try and arrange things for the funeral. Rick and his girlfriend Faye go with Elliot to pick Eloise up from school. She hasn’t been told yet. He sits her down and tells her that Grandma Carol was killed in a car accident. She asks him if he’s been drinking. She doesn’t seem to have a reaction about her grandmother at first, but then starts to cry as Faye and Rick watch from the car.
Eloise’s other grandmother Rowena (Spencer) and family attend the funeral. Rowena immediately starts talking about her big family, implying that Eloise should live with them. Elliot continues to try and be “Mr. Mom” doing everything as her grandmother would do it.
A man named Duvan comes over for an interview to be a tutor for Eloise. His daughter died in childbirth and implies that she was not on speaking terms with them at the time. He also needs him to tutor himself in math to help her.
Rowena is threatening to sue for custody via her brother who is a big time lawyer. Rick says that Rowena and Eloise are both black, which angers Elliot as she is “half black” and why would that matter anyway? He then pays Duvan to drive him around since he is too drunk to do it himself. He takes him to see Rowena. She says she wants shared custody and accuses him of not wanting her there because it would be with the “black folks.” He tells her to stop bringing that up because she lives in the safest neighborhood in LA and goes to one of the best schools in the country. He brings up what her son Reggie (Eloise’s father) did to the family and the hell they put them through.
Rowena’s brother has his legal team and her sitting down for a meeting. He convinces her to say that Elliot has a problem with black people in order to win custody. The judge for the case is going to be a black woman, which makes the case not good for Elliot.
Elliot talks to Eloise to find out what she wants. She makes it clear that she wants to stay living with Elliot. They go to court for the initial hearing and the judge doesn’t seem to care for Rowena’s attitude, which looks good for Elliot.
Elliot continues to drink and see visions of his wife and daughter. Eloise tests Elliot by not being obedient, causing him to yell at her. She storms off saying she doesn’t want to live with him and she wants her daddy.
Reggie goes to visit Elliot. He asks him for money, saying that if he gives it to him he’ll leave which will give Elliot a better chance of having custody. Elliot tells Reggie that Eloise wants to see him so they make plans for him to go visit. Eloise gets all dressed up, but Reggie never shows. She goes to her room and Elliot finds the liquor that his maid hid under the sink.
The next day Rowena shows up to Elliot’s house with the entire family of cousins to go swimming. She tells Elliot that Reggie is sitting outside at the car. She tries to defend him. He tells him that he wanted to go, but just couldn’t. He tells him off saying he’s not the “street nigger” he thinks he is. Reggie just walks away, eventually going out to the pool. Eloise goes up to him and they hug. Later, Elliot confronts him and offers him $25,000 to go away and get cleaned up and off drugs. Reggie tells him he is off drugs and just needs it for some debts.
Reggie meets with his Uncle Jeremiah and Rowena. Jeremiah doesn’t believe that he is clean and he better be telling the truth because the judge won’t believe him. Jeremiah thinks they should leave Reggie out of it in order to win custody, but him being her father, Rowena doesn’t want to.
Elliot gets a call it’s bad. Reggie is now petitioning for full custody and brought in the check, saying that Elliot is bribing him to get out of the picture, which is very bad for his case. Elliot meets with his lawyers and explains it wasn’t a bribe and that Reggie ruined his daughter’s life and he won’t let him do the same to Eloise.
Elliot goes home and finds out that Reggie came by and took Eloise, telling the maid they would be back by dinner. Elliot goes to Rowena’s and they are all having some kind of music party with Eloise on the piano. He sees Reggie across the street, smoking and drinking, and runs after him. Reggie tries to run and he tackles him and tells him never to come to his house without permission again or to take Eloise again.
Rowena comes to find out what’s going on and finds out that Reggie didn’t have permission to take Eloise. Rowena keeps defending him and Elliot tells her that the “bribery check” was to pay off debts, yet she never saw any of it (she had given him money).
On the way to court, Rowena sees Reggie smoking and all disheveled, saying that he can’t do it. He wants to, but he can’t. Rowena slaps him, trying to knock some sense into him. They go to court and Reggie starts saying the rehearsed lines. Rowena has another outburst and is threatened to be taken out in handcuffs. Rowena sees that Reggie is fidgety and forces Jeremiah to ask for a lunch break. Elliot refuses and wants Rick to cross examine Reggie right then. Rick asks Reggie how his spelling, reading, and writing is, and asks him to spell the name Eloise. He spells it Loeze he’s illiterate.
After lunch they question Duvan. He says that he is fluent in 9 languages and conversational in 4. He says that while tutoring Eloise, he also tutors Elliot, making him extremely involved. Jeremiah reveals that he is also his driver because of his drinking.
Elliot is on the stand and tells about his experiences with Reggie in the past about how he was on drugs, asking for money, and one time he pulled a knife on him. Jeremiah asks him about his financial stability, and he explains that yes he will have to go back to work eventually and won’t be able to be there with her full time. He then pulls the race card and asks him about when he called Reggie a “street nigger.” He admits to it and apologizes, however he says how Reggie would refer to himself in that way. Elliot says he used the term because it was stuck in his brain. He goes on a rant about how he’s not racist and Reggie is just a drug addict.
At home, Elliot is drinking and Reggie comes back asking for money, threatening to take Eloise. They get into a fist fight and Reggie pulls a knife on Elliot. Reggie runs inside to Eloise’s room, and Elliot falls into the pool and gets caught under the tarp. Just as he’s drowning Reggie jumps into the water and pulls him out, but in his state he sees a vision of his daughter. He gives him mouth to mouth the best he can figure out how to and Elliot survives. Reggie apologizes to him finally about him losing his daughter and leaves, crying.
A week later they are at the final hearing in the case. Reggie admits that Elliot was right and he isn’t ready to be a father. He doesn’t want custody and says he needs to go away for a while to get himself together first. Elliot was ready to tell about what happened with the fight, but doesn’t need to anymore. Jeremiah stands up and says they are now asking for Rowena to have full custody. Rowena can’t help herself. She stands up and says she doesn’t want full custody and says Elliot has Eloise’s best interest at heart and they want him to have full custody, which is granted to him.
Eloise is going to visit Rowena and the family for a couple weeks. Elliot tells her he just needs to work on some things (get sober). Duvan is going to continue to go there for tutoring. There’s a happy ending with both families getting along.
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