The movie opens up 13 years ago, in the Nebraska junior high P.E. class of Jasper Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton). As the class starts, he picks up a basketball and asks the class what is it; he suddenly throws the ball at a kid named Nedderman. The ball hits him in the gut, and he’s forced to take a lap for not catching it. Woodcock then goes on about how he’s teaching them to be men; during this speech, he makes a kid named Oates run for wheezing (he’s got asthma) and another kid running for knowing the capital of Montana. After beaning Nedderman (who’s still running) with another basketball, Woodcock begins to insult a kid named John Farley for not wearing a P.E. uniform. He asks him a couple rhetorical questions because he already knows the answer or doesn’t care (NOTE: the “rhetorical question” joke gets used A LOT in this movie). Woodcock makes Farley strip to his underwear and do chin ups; all the while, Woodcock continues to insult him, calling John fat, gelatinous, etc.
Cut to 13 years later. John (Sean William Scott) is now the motivating author of a book about letting go of your past. He loves to give advice on his book tour, but his agent Maggie (Amy Poehler) insists all his fans are potential stalkers. Later that night, Maggie talks with John about how famous he is and how the town he grew up in wants to give him The Corn Cob Key (the town award for anyone who leaves and changes the world). John would love to accept it, but Maggie says no. John wants to go c his mother again since she was the “Corn Queen” back in 1970 (she gets to ride on a float the day of their big parade) and because his dad died and John is all she has; Maggie is clueless about John’s father dying and it becomes obvious she hasn’t even read John’s book.
John flies into his hometown and instantly is congratulated by the city council (they greet him at the airport with a very loud marching band and a “Welcome Home John Farley” banner). John then goes to visit his mom, Beverly (Susan Sarandon). John and Beverly talk, and Beverly tells John she’s dating someone; John is excited about this, until he finds out his mom’s boyfriend is…..MR WOODCOCK! Despite John’s surprise, Woodcock doesn’t seem to remember John. It also turns out that Woodcock will be honored as the Educator of the Year the same night John will receive The Corn Cob Key.
Later that night, Woodcock and Beverly take John out to dinner. When Beverly goes to the bathroom, John tells Woodcock about his book; Woodcock thinks the book is for losers. When the check comes, John insists he pays after making a comment implying Woodcock can’t afford it. Woodcock pretty much threatens John to let him pay for it; when Beverly comes back, she sees Woodcock paying and pushes John to thank him. Later that night, Woodcock tells everyone how he beat up Santa Claus when he was 7; after the story, John says it’s time to call it a night, so he and Beverly go home (implying that Woodcock go home). At home, Beverly talks to John about how Woodcock is the first guy she’s loved since John’s dad.
The next morning, John wakes up to see Woodcock walking down the stairs; John asked him what time he got here, and Woodcock replies, “About 10 minutes after you said good night.” Scene cuts to John angrily jogging until he stops at a pizza joint. While resting, John makes a scene when he finds out the pizza place made a “Woodcock Pan Pizza”. John gets surprised when he sees a grown up Nedderman (Ethan Suplee) working here full time. Nedderman talks about how he loved John’s book and how it inspired him to start a pool cleaning service. As they talk, John admits Woodcock and his mom are dating; Nedderman and the other employees make a scene by basically letting everyone in the restaurant know “Woodcock is porking John’s mom!” Nedderman then tells the story of how Woodcock actually killed Oates because of all that running he made him do with his asthma (important later). John then decides he’s going to try and talk it out with Woodcock.
John shows up at Woodcock’s P.E. class. As he waits for the class begins, he has a flashback of P.E. class: basically, they were playing waffle ball that day, Woodcock was doing a cup check using a waffle ball bat, and John didn’t wear a cup…..well, u get the picture. Back in the present, John bumps into an old classmate of his named Tracy she now teaches English at the school. Like everyone else, Tracy gives the “I loved your book” comment to John. John gets the courage to ask her out, but she’s busy that day. John does manage to get her phone number before she leaves. John enters Woodcock’s class and tries talking to him, but Woodcock has his foot on a kid as he does push ups, which makes it a little hard for John to talk to him. John apologizes for acting like he did the night before; John waits for an apology from Woodcock, but he claims he doesn’t do apologies.
John gets angry and tries convincing Beverly that Woodcock is mean, but Woodcock eventually walks in with some groceries. John ends up going to the store to get a steak (Woodcock picked up two, “forgetting” that John was here); when he comes back, he sees Beverly crying in the kitchen. Beverly gets John’s hopes up when she says she and Woodcock aren’t dating anymore, but then tells him Woodcock proposed to her. John sits in complete shock as Woodcock tells him, “Looks like im gonna be your new daddy.” John loses it and catches the next cab to the airport.
On the cab ride, John has another flashback when Woodcock was teaching him and his classmates wrestling moves. After Woodcock pins John down numerous times, he tells John to take him down; after an unsuccessful attempt, Woodcock tells John that he doesn’t believe in himself, and takes him down. Back to present, John stops the cab driver and heads back to Nedderman’s pizza place. There, John explains to Nedderman that he’s going to get Woodcock out of him mom’s life. While this happens, Maggie calls John and tells him Oprah Winfrey wants John’s book on her reading list (while this happens, a middle aged man is seen taking body shots off Maggie). John says he’s going to stay home a little longer; Maggie tells him he better be on the plane to New York on Sunday and hangs up. Later that night, John sneaks back into his mom’s house to sleep for the night; Woodcock mistakes him for a robber (even when he is screaming “It’s me! It’s John!”) and beats the crap out of him with a baseball bat. The lights get turned on, and Woodcock stops. John tells Beverly he’s going to stay a few more days, so they all go back to sleep.
The next day, John starts things off by dipping Woodcock’s whistle in the toilet. At breakfast, John and Woodcock battle it out to see who’s more affectionate with Beverly. John then gets the great idea of spending the day with Woodcock; Woodcock tries talking his way out of it, but Beverly insists they spend the day together.
The first thing they do is work out. John tries talking things out while Woodcock bench presses; Woodcock replies with “Running your mouth doesn’t apply to working out.” They start using the running machines to see who can run the fastest; in an attempt to keep up with Woodcock, John falls off the machine into a set of weights. After working out, Woodcock takes John to the barber. Through Woodcock’s conversation with the other men here, John learns that Woodcock has been married before. One of the barber’s tries cutting John’s hair, but accidentally takes out a HUGE piece of hair in the back of his head. Woodcock tells him he didn’t have to get a haircut, since this isn’t Russia. Finally, Woodcock takes John to a retirement as he visits his dad; John is surprised Woodcock has a dad, which Woodcock replies, “Of course I have a father I’m not Jesus, Farley.” Turns out Woodcock’s dad is worse than he is he’s bitter, arrogant, and tries to challenge John to a fight. Woodcock then goes to teach his other class: a water aerobics class at the retirement home. John is surprised to learn Woodcock treats the elderly students like he treats his P.E. class. Woodcock starts yelling at an elderly man named Polumbo who refuse to get out of his wheelchair and into the pool (his hearing aid is malfunctioning). Woodcock then pushes Polumbo into the pool; John panics and jumps in to save the old man. His rescue attempt fails when Polumbo punches him in the face and he begins to drown; John wakes up to an old man giving him CPR and Polumbo swimming like nothing happened.
After a miserable day, John calls Nedderman and asks him to dig up some dirt on Woodcock’s ex-wife. Maggie also calls John (from the plane John was supposed to be on) and asks him where he is. John says he’s not coming for a few more days; Maggie gets angry and asks for a “real” alcohol bottle compared to the tiny ones they serve on planes. Later, Nedderman finds the address of Woodcock’s ex-wife, so John wants to go talk to her ASAP.
Now would be a good time to note that at this point of the movie, John is doing the exact opposite of what he wrote about in his book. He keeps coming up with excuses to Nedderman why he’s going against his own book, but it’s obvious he’s getting tired of everyone thinking he’s this calm, peaceful guy.
Later that day, John meets with Woodcock’s ex-wife. She claims the reason they divorced is because of infidelity, but the thing that kept her with Woodcock was the sex apparently sex with Woodcock was so great she was able to speak Portuguese and actually blacked out from the pleasure. John finally admits to her that his mom is dating Woodcock; she claims she saw Woodcock with a “blonde, big-titted bimbo” that looked a little too young to be John’s mom. This is when John realizes Woodcock is cheating on Beverly.
Meanwhile, Nedderman makes a tape that’s supposed to show Woodcock throwing a chair at his little brother, but John can easily tell it’s fake. Woodcock (who recognizes Nedderman from John’s P.E. class) and Beverly walk in just as the tape cuts to Nedderman talking about how hot he thinks Beverly is (he tries stopping the tape, but it just keeps rewinding to when he talks about playing with Beverly’s boobs). Woodcock gets pissed and chases the Nedderman’s out.
That night, John invites Tracy to a “Cornvial” with him, Beverly, and Woodcock. John and Tracy have a great time….until Tracy starts talking about Woodcock. She even mentions having a crush of Woodcock, which pushes John to challenge Woodcock to a few carnival games. Woodcock beats him senseless in every game until they both sign up for a corn eating contest. John wins the contest, but decides to specifically rub it in Woodcock’s face. Beverly and Tracy grow embarrassed by John’s over-celebration and leave. Woodcock leaves, saying he knows how to cheer Beverly up.
Nedderman calls John the next morning after staking out Woodcock’s house overnight. When John finds Nedderman’s van, they both watch as a beautiful blonde girl leaves Woodcock’s house. After Woodcock and the girl leave, John tries convincing Nedderman to sneak into Woodcock’s house with him, but Nedderman asks where that’s in his book. John finally loses it and rips his book into a million pieces. Through all this, Tracy calls John, and tells him he’s not the guy she thought he was. This doesn’t really affect John, so he and Nedderman sneak in and find the blonde girl’s panties. However, Woodcock comes back with Beverly, forcing Nedderman to hide in a closet and John to hide under the bed. John lies down and sees the mattress shake as Woodcock and Beverly have sex. Just like the ex-wife said, Beverly tells Woodcock not to make her black out again, and she eventually speaks “I love you long time” in Portuguese. After they’re done and leave, Nedderman comes out of the closet and says “That was way better than anything on the internet”.
John shows up to the awards banquet and joins Beverly and Woodcock. Woodcock is to receive his award before John gets his. John goes insane when he hears countless speeches from people praising Woodcock for being a great teacher. Woodcock is finally given his award, although his acceptance speech doesn’t last more than “Thank you. I appreciate this.” Finally, John receives his Corn Cob Key. For his acceptance speech, John claims Woodcock is the biggest a**hole in the world. As he tries making his claim, we see all of John’s evidence fall apart: Woodcock and his ex-wife divorced because SHE was the one that was cheating, the blonde girl is Woodcock’s realtor, and the panties they found were actually Beverly’s. Even John’s claim that Woodcock killed Oates falls apart when Oates stands up and claims he only had minor surgery for his asthma. Woodcock grows completely furious and takes John into the hallway to fight; Beverly stops the both of them and can’t believe how selfish both guys have become. Beverly puts her engagement ring down and walks away.
For the rest of the night, John begs his mom that he’s sorry; this is interrupted by Maggie knocking on the front door. She is pissed John blew off Oprah’s reading list, but was still able to schedule a live satellite appearance tomorrow on the Tyra Banks Show. John bums out since the town parade is tomorrow, but Maggie basically forces him to do the interview. The next morning, John sees his mom come down in her queen gown. John immediately apologizes to her; Beverly asks if John ever stopped to think about how she felt, and leaves. After Beverly leaves, John does his interview with Tyra Banks for a minute before he leaves the interview. Maggie gets pissed and yells at him (Tyra watches this and mouths “what a bitch”), but John leaves anyway.
Meanwhile, Woodcock sits at his office desk and throws away his picture of Beverly. John shows up and tries to convince him otherwise, but Woodcock has already thrown in the towel. John thinks Woodcock is afraid of getting hurt again by trying to win Beverly back. They end up getting into another argument which results in them squaring off in a wrestling match. The ending result of the match is John beating the crap out of Woodcock so bad he doesn’t move. Thinking he killed Woodcock, John calls 9-1-1; within a minute of being in the ambulance, Woodcock wakes up and rips his oxygen mask off. Through a few more insults, Woodcock compliments John for the first time, saying “It’s about time you grew some balls.” John convinces Woodcock to not grow old as bitter as his dad is, so Woodcock has John roll him out on the gurney he’s strapped onto.
As the parade makes its way through the town, John rolls Woodcock to Beverly’s float. Woodcock tells Beverly he’s “basically sorry”, which John claims is a good thing coming from Woodcock. As John admits how this has all been his fault, he accidentally pushes Woodcock into the only pothole in the town, which sends him flying through the air.
The next scene shows John and Beverly waiting in the ER waiting room. John admits he wants his mom to be with Woodcock, which makes her happy. John and Beverly go in to visit Woodcock; he tries apologizing, but he’s obviously not very good at it. In the end, Beverly takes Woodcock back and jokes with John by asking for “a set of 10”.
After the credits roll for a bit, we see the family, Maggie, and Tracy during Christmas. Woodcock tells John he read his book, and liked the part talking about “treating others how you wanted to be treated” unfortunately, that’s the only part of the book he liked. Woodcock throws the book in the fire. Another scene shows Maggie handing John his new book, which is called Backbone; John asks if Maggie read it this time, which she replies “Don’t make me lie on Christmas.” In the last scene, Woodcock announces that he and Beverly are going to have a baby, which frightens John.
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