In this drama by Marsha Norman based on the novel by Zena Collier and directed by Susan Seidelman, Sally Field plays Iris, a divorcee who has run out of money after leaving her husband and refusing to take any financial help from him. Scorned by her daughter Callie (Jessalyn Gilsig), a lawyer who can't forgive her for having an affair with a younger man, this middle-ager heads off to a small New England town where she's taken a job as a maid. The one thing Iris knows how to do is keep house.

Her employer is Paula Tanner (Judy Davis), a self-centered, bossy, and lonely woman who's married to a producer. He's always working and has made it quite clear that he's seeing other women. As Iris struggles to maintain her composure under the wilting criticism and nastiness of her employer, she learns from various members of the community that Mrs. Tanner has already gone through ten maids.

A Cooler Climate presents a fascinating look at how difficult it is for middle-agers to start their lives over from scratch. Luckily Iris finds support outside her workplace. A romantic relationship develops with Jack Kelly (Winston Rekert), a sculptor who has refashioned his life along simpler lines in the small town. Iris also is able to reconnect with her estranged daughter after she spends some time with Paula's rebellious 19-year-old daughter (Carly Pope). In the end, the protagonist also finds a job that gives her the financial independence she needs to stand on her own two feet.