"There are a lot of people in the world walking around feeling they are not good enough, feeling disappointed in who they are and not believing they deserve to be loved. We seem to make people feel inadequate wholesale and then try to cheer them up one at a time, but the cure never seems to catch up with the extent of the affliction," Rabbi Harold S. Kushner writes in How Good Do We Have to Be? Think of all the people you know who at one point or another in their lives have fit this description. Many did not receive the emotional support they needed in childhood and, as adults, stumble through intimate relationships with friends and lovers. They remain emotionally closed-off from others. And here's the difficult part: the key to escaping this prison must come from within; it cannot magically be bestowed by others. In her debut as a writer and director, actress Joey Lauren Adams explores this theme in the story of a Southern woman who has reached the end of her rope in self-destructive behavior. Ashley Judd gives a riveting performance that brings to mind the richness and nuance of her acting in Ruby in Paradise.
During the days in a small Arkansas town, Lucy (Ashley Judd) works as a contractor for Owen Allen (Stacy Keach), who appreciates her diligence and efficiency. She was held this job for nine years. It is during the night that Lucy has trouble. Most every evening she is down at the local bar playing pool and picking up men for one-night stands. Having no interest in them beyond sex, she slinks out of the motel rooms early in the morning. Her roommate Kim (Laura Prepon) wishes that Lucy would try to slowly develop an intimate romantic relationship, but she seems to be set in her ways. Her mother (Diane Ladd) has no respect for her second husband, who is abusive towards her. Lucy's dad, Lowell (Scott Wilson), lives by himself and is a very shy man. She's heard that he was quite the hedonist when he was a musician playing with local bands. Now he attends a church regularly, and Lucy goes with him. But she asks the minister why she has to carry around the sins of past generations who modeled a life of sexual promiscuity and drinking.
Lucy meets Cal (Jeffrey Donovan), who has just arrived in town from Kentucky. He used to restore cars. They hit it off, and she has sex with him. But when she tries to sneak out in the morning, he is hurt. He knows she usually makes love only when she's drunk, and so he asks her, "When was the last time you kissed someone sober?" It's a wake-up question for her. Feeling that this relationship is worth investing some time and energy into, Lucy apologizes, and they continue. But her bad habits get in the way, and she continues to set up obstacles to the deepening of their relationship.
The people around her, including Cal, help Lucy come to terms with her self-destructive behavior. Transformation is the holy grail at the heart of this emotionally affecting drama about a woman's spiritual journey to wholeness.