The movie starts with Professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) driving into work at Carnegie Melon. He crookedly parks his car before he goes into work. You start to see that he’s not well liked because he goes into one of his classes and asks his students to wear name tags. One of the students says that she has taken previous classes taught by him but he still didn’t know her name. He says that he does and calls her by her name but at the same time one of the other students yells that he read it and you can tell by the sheet of paper sitting in front of him he did. The beginning mostly shoots to scenes of him going to teach his different classes and going into his office. He also in between classes is on the phone with some publishing companies about his book. But one after another he fails to get a positive response about his book. As Lawrence walks into the copy room he sees his adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church) copying his stomach while laughing with a couple of college girls. When Lawrence sees Chuck he rolls his eyes when Chuck greets him and the girls leave. Chuck starts telling Lawrence about a job he was working (selling international calling cards) but obviously doesn’t work there anymore because Lawrence tells Chuck he’s not going to give him anymore money. He brings up past incidents of when he asked for money and walks away. At the end of the day Lawrence shows how much of a pompous jerk he is when a student comes to his office to ask for help. He sees the student slams the door in his face and then changes the clock on purpose so he won’t have to help him out. As a result the student gets stranded and Lawrence walks off.
He walks to his car and drives to another building on campus and double parks the car poorly again. He storms into his son James’ (Ashton Holmes) dorm room asking why he had such a high credit card bill from a store and James tells Lawrence that it was for books and they cost a lot of money for his classes. Lawrence looks at his desk and sees that James reads a lot of poetry and he mentions he didn’t know his son was into poetry and James replies there’s a lot he doesn’t know about him. Right before Lawrence says something he and James look out the window to see that his car is being towed and he runs off to chase it. As a result he goes to the campus impound and knocks on the window because the student sitting in the booth is blasting his iPod so loud he doesn’t pay attention. Lawrence tells him he needs his car and the student says he needs a receipt and to pay then he can get his car. Lawrence has no receipt so he tells the student to tell a guy that he came buy and that he would take care of it on Monday when he could next see him. The student also once had Lawrence as a professor and of course he doesn’t remember him. Lawrence yells that he needs his briefcase for an appointment and tries to bribe the student but he won’t oblige. As a result Lawrence climbs over the fence to get into his car and gets his briefcase out. He throws his briefcase over the fence and climbs back over when the students leaves the booth and catches him leaving. Lawrence gets startled and falls the wrong way making him fall on his back.
Lawrence wakes up in the hospital on his back when Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker) walks in and starts reading his chart. She also asks him if he can remember anything and he starts asking about his car. She tells him that he can’t drive for 6 months and that he’ll have to get someone to help him out. He asks her to tell a lie that he was knocked over and she says she isn’t going to lie for him because she’s required to file a report. She makes him turn around and gives him a shot while he cringes from the pain. She leaves the room and calls Lawrence’s house. His daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) answers the phone while studying. Dr. Hartigan asks for Mrs. Wetherhold and Vanessa rudely says no and hangs up the phone. Dr. Hartigan calls again and Vanessa picks up saying she isn’t interested in buying anything because she thinks it’s a telemarketer. Dr. Hartigan asks again for Mrs. Wetherhold and Vanessa says she died a long time ago and thanks her for painfully reminding her of that. Hartigan tells her that her father’s in the hospital and Vanessa says she can’t go to the hospital because she has to take the SAT tomorrow and wants the perfect score. She then hangs up the phone and calls Hartigan a bitch and then Hartigan calls Vanessa a bitch after hanging up. Hartigan tells her colleague William (David Denman) that she was also a student of his about 10 or 15 years ago and of course Lawrence doesn’t remember. Soon Vanessa walks into the hospital and sees Lawrence in the hospital. Dr. Hartigan happens to walk in and he starts telling Vanessa a lie saying a large man attacked him and he fell in the process of protecting himself. Hartigan tells her that he can’t drive for 6 months and she tells him she has too much to do and can’t chauffeur him around for 6 months because of her school activities. He says he’ll hire someone to drive him and the insurance company will cover it. Vanessa leaves and Lawrence falls asleep.
Lawrence leaves the hospital and James picks him up in Lawrence’s car that was previously impounded. He sits in the back seat on the left because the right side of the car makes him nauseous (no real reason why). He comes home to Vanessa studying and Chuck in the living room. He yells what the hell is Chuck doing there since he’s just his adopted brother. Vanessa found out that the insurance company won’t hire a driver and cover it and that she’s already filed a complaint and just needs Lawrence to sign it. Chuck claims he’ll stay there to drive him around and also needs a place to stay. James tells Chuck that there are some towels upstairs and fresh linen on the extra bed and Lawrence yells at him to shut up. Despite Lawrence’s disdain Chuck goes upstairs and makes himself at home.
Monday comes and Lawrence yells for Chuck to take him to work. Chuck drops him off at work and leaves. Lawrence goes into work and the department advisor tells him that he’s made him head of a committee (I think something in the Literature department since that’s his subject) and he’s very upset because he has enough on his plate and doesn’t want to do it. The advisor claims that everybody else is busy that semester and he doesn’t have a choice. Lawrence does mention that he however wants to be the department head. The advisor mentions how since he never goes to any of the faculty meetings. Lawrence walks off and later goes home. He starts to tell Vanessa about how he tried to get department head and she encourages him that he deserves it. The whole time Chuck sits at the table listening and occasionally making snide remarks. They finish dinner and then go upstairs.
The next morning Lawrence wakes Chuck up and tells him it’s time to go to work. Later on that evening he goes for a neurological exam with William at the same hospital. William tells him that Dr. Hartigan was a student of his and mentions that she had a crush on him back then. When Lawrence leaves Hartigan sees him outside and he mentions he remembers her (though he doesn’t). She shrugs it off and walks away to her car to go home. Meanwhile Vanessa and Chuck are in his closet that has a lot of old clothes that belong to his late wife. Vanessa says that he doesn’t need it and if they give it to Goodwill they can get a tax write off. So Chuck and Vanessa take all of her clothes except for the Wellesley College sweatshirt that Chuck wears. They go back home and Chuck tells Vanessa that she needs to loosen up so he gives her pot. She at first says no but he finds a way to convince her and she tries it. They start watching a Spanish soap opera and start talking about it while Chuck jabbers on in Spanish. So Chuck forgets to pick up Lawrence from the hospital. While Lawrence is at the hospital he waits outside in the cold for Chuck when Dr. Hartigan drives up and offers him a ride. He says his adopted brother was supposed to get him and he gets in the back left seat. He starts discussing literature with her on the way home. She starts to soften to him and as he gets out of the car he asks her out on a date. She accepts and Lawrence goes home. Lawrence comes into the house and smells the pot. He gets upset because he knows what Chuck did and sees him in the Wellesley College sweatshirt. Lawrence goes upstairs and sees all the clothes are gone and he later takes Chuck with him back to the Goodwill and gets all his wife’s clothes back.
Later on the whole family is in the car in the Arby’s drive thru. James asks Lawrence if he can take him to the mall on Friday instead of Saturday and he says no he has something else to do. His family keeps badgering him for what’s going on and he tells them about his date. They start telling him not to go and that he’s too fragile. He doesn’t listen and Chuck makes a crass comment saying that if he spends up to $50 on dinner he should get laid.
Dr. Janet Hartigan talks on the phone to William about her date and he tells her to be careful. While she’s on the phone she goes through some old files before she gets ready. Janet drives up to Lawrence’s house and Vanessa greets her. Vanessa then tells Janet that Lawrence is fragile and that she shouldn’t be fucking her patients. Janet says that he’s no longer her patient and Vanessa leaves pissed off. The next scene shows them at dinner while Lawrence rambles on and on about himself and his book and trying to get it published. The waiter comes and asks them if they want coffee and Lawrence snaps no it’s too late for coffee and that they’ll have chocolate cake instead. Janet stops and interrupts him saying she was having a good day until 45 minutes ago because he’s been talking about himself the whole time. She gives him an old paper she wrote for his class and told him she changed her major from English to Biology because he gave her a C. She calls him the same pompous windbag that he was back then and leaves.
Lawrence gets home early and Chuck mentions that he’s home early and can tell he didn’t get laid. The next day Lawrence wakes up Chuck in his long johns opened in the back with no underwear on. He takes him to work and Lawrence starts going to more of faculty meetings to convince the rest of the teachers that he is the most qualified for department head. He gets home that night and has a conversation over dinner with Vanessa about how wrong the date went and she tells him that she was too young and he was better off without her. Lawrence feels bad and sits down and reads Janet’s old paper. He gives it a B and then gives it a C again.
The next day Lawrence goes to the hospital unannounced and gives Janet her paper back. He says he wanted to give it a better grade and then asks her out again since he thought it was better than before hand still thinking it deserved a C. She thinks about it and accepts. They go to dinner and enjoy each other this time. She asks about his book and he asks about her family. She’d rather hear about his book so he tells her that he’s having a hard time getting published. They give the talking a rest and she takes him home. They have sex and Lawrence says it’s been a while since he’s used a condom and said it felt good even though he wasn’t used to it. He then asks her what she wants to do for Christmas and invites her to his house. Janet excuses herself and goes into the bathroom and takes a smoke and comes outside and tells Lawrence that she got paged and had to go to the ER. She walks him out to a cab and goes back inside when the cab drives off.
Vanessa gets a letter in the mail and gets excited and runs upstairs. Later she’s seen leaving the Pennsylvania republican office with a box of brochures. Her car won’t stop so she calls Chuck to get her and he shows up to jump her car. She tells him that she got in to Stanford and he says it calls for a celebration and he takes her to the local bar. She sees people from school and sees James making out with a girl from school and turns away in disgust. She sees some girls from school and calls them stupid and they call her lonely. Vanessa leaves drunk with Chuck and when they get to the car she kisses him and says it doesn’t matter since he’s just adopted. He freaks out and takes her home drunk.
Lawrence beats Vanessa and Chuck back home and sees her drunk and gets pissed at Chuck. The next morning Lawrence calls Janet and she keeps avoiding his phone calls and refuses to return them. He then leaves on last message and she comes over for Christmas after the family gets into a fight. Chuck lets her in and they eat together. When Vanessa goes to her room Lawrence goes upstairs to see what she’s doing and she tells him she came up with a few names for his book. The one that stands out the most is the title ‘You Can’t Read.’
Lawrence wakes up Chuck again and he’s naked again in bed. When Lawrence gets to work he gets a phone call from Penguin publishing to come to New York about his book. Lawrence goes to another meeting still trying to convince the rest of the literature department that he’s the right person for department head. They all argue that he never turns in any of his student evaluations and think he has something to hide. Next his assistant goes through his past evaluations calling him all sorts of things none of them being positive. It seems that every student he taught hates him and he fails to remember any student that he ever taught even though he’s taught them in more than one class in a semester.
Next shown is Vanessa driving along the road where Chuck is stapling flyers of his business scam on the telephone polls. She asks why he hasn’t been home for the past week. He acts weird around her because of the kiss they shared the other night and tells her he has a girlfriend and that he stays there for a couple of nights. Lawrence then walks up and tells Chuck and Vanessa about his book and that he’s going to New York with Janet to meet the publishers. Vanessa gets upset and drives off. Chuck then tells Lawrence that he’s living with his new girlfriend for a while and that he could get a new place pretty soon. Lawrence says that he’s gotten used to having Chuck around and that he can stay.
You next see Lawrence and Janet in New York headed to the hotel. When they get there he gets dressed and asks her if he looks too desperate and she says no and wishes him luck. After that he shows up at the publisher’s office for his appointment. The publisher tells him that at first they thought the book was too arrogant for anyone to read and would never sell. But after finding a way to edit the book to their liking they figured it would get a lot of attention, though negative attention, and would sell because of the title ‘You Can’t Read.’ He agrees to it and goes back to the hotel room. Before he gets back Janet takes a pregnancy test and from her expression you can tell it’s positive. When he gets back he tells her that Bloomberg (the publisher) wants to take them both out to dinner even though she would rather just go with him alone. He urges that they have to go with Bloomberg to make a good impression and she declines saying she isn’t feeling well. Next shown is them going to the airport and Lawrence gets mad when he sees a bunch of kids running around saying their parents should do a better job of keeping an eye on them. Janet gets mad and says maybe they’re legs are stiff so they need to run around to relax. He asks her why she’s been so distant and she says she doesn’t want to talk about it. They start arguing in front of everyone at the airport and she walks off leaving him alone.
Next shown is Vanessa doing laundry for everyone and Chuck upstairs in his room avoiding her. Vanessa says that he shouldn’t try to avoid her since she knew it didn’t mean anything and he says it’s better for him to see women his own age instead. She gets upset and drops his laundry basket in his room and storms off.
Lawrence is at work and his assistant reads another old student evaluation to him. This time the evaluation says even though he was difficult to work with he pushed the student hard enough even though she changed her major to biology contributing to her becoming head of the ER in the hospital. He stops reads it himself and walks off to his car. He drives to James’ room while James is having sex with a girl from one of Lawrence’s classes (the girl’s name he read off the sheet). James comes to the door and Lawrence tells him that he didn’t know that one of his poems had been published in the New York Times and found out while he was there. He told him yes but Lawrence interrupts when he sees the scam signs that Chuck was putting around the neighborhood all over the floor. James tells him that Chuck stays in his room a few days a week to get away from Lawrence and Vanessa, so obviously he isn’t at his girlfriend’s. Lawrence gets upset and later that evening shows back up in James’ dorm to find Chuck throwing away beer cans. He makes Chuck leave with him asking him why he won’t come home. Of course Chuck won’t tell him that Vanessa kissed him but he mentions that Lawrence is so busy being miserable he didn’t even know that Vanessa got into Stanford. He gets surprised and says she should’ve told him but Chuck says he should’ve asked her.
The next day Lawrence is at work and teaching a class. The class starts discussing a certain literary material and it starts relating to his family. While the students and Lawrence are talking the scenes are changing from Chuck looking at old pictures to Vanessa going through old things and pictures of the family. At another meeting and says he doesn’t know why he even nominated himself for head of the department after all the other professors congratulate him on his book. He walks away and shows up at Vanessa’s P.E. class and she runs out to see what’s wrong. He tells her that he found out that she got in to Stanford and also told her that he stepped down from trying to be the department head. She starts yelling don’t do it because she’s not going to the same school as James. He says with his book she won’t have to worry about the money and going to Stanford shouldn’t be a problem. But he asks her why is she so lonely and doesn’t have any friends. She says since he’s her role model it would make sense because he’s miserable.
While Vanessa is studying in her room Chuck comes in and she tells him to leave since she knows he’s uncomfortable around her. She says it’s not fair that he tried to win her over and then strands her. He says that he wasn’t trying to send the wrong message and is sorry that he did. He also mentions that he appreciates her cooking for him and taking care of him even though Lawrence didn’t want to have anything to do with him. In other words they make up and he asks her to make him something to eat.
Lawrence goes to the hospital to talk to Janet about the evaluation she wrote. He finds her and sits down to thank her. She reads it and says it’s not hers it’s not even her signature. Embarrassed he gets up but she makes him sit down. She finally tells him she’s pregnant and he asks why she didn’t tell him right away. She says because he was so arrogant at the airport she didn’t want to see his reaction. He asked why did she decide to have a baby by him and she said because he didn’t know how to use a condom it was an accident. She also figures since he isn’t a bad looking guy and they’re both smart people the baby should be ok. He goes home and tells Vanessa and again she gets upset. Chuck happens to walk in on them not knowing what they’re talking about. Lawrence tells her that she either needs to accept it or stay miserable because there’s nothing they can do about it. She says ok but she isn’t changing any dirty diapers and when Chuck gets it he walks away.
While the credits are rolling Chuck and Lawrence are shopping at Costco buying baby stuff while Chuck still buys beer along with it. At the very end pictures are flashing of the family holding a twin boy and girl.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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Sad-sack professor Lawrence (Dennis Quaid) apologizes to his doctor lady Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), and they reconcile. She later gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl.
Lawrence's shiftless brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) moves in against Lawrence's wishes and does his darnedest to loosen up Lawrence's withdrawn and uptight daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page). He succeeds a little too well when she makes a pass at him when drunk.
He moves out for a while, but they eventually make their peace.
Lawrence's snarky book is finally picked up by a non-academic publisher who edits it and markets it as a in-your-face novelty item. He allows this and decides to use the money to send Vanessa to the prestigious (and far-away) college she has been accepted into, thus letting her finally move on from fulfilling the role of Lawrence's deceased wife.
Chuck continues to happily wander from job to job, but he has become part of the family.
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