Middle-ager Luke (Ed Harris) has divorced his homemaker suburban wife, Jackie (Susan Sarandon), and taken up with Isabel (Julia Roberts), a young and attractive New York fashion photographer. Twelve-year-old Anna (Jena Malone), who is very close to her mother, resents this new intruder and the changes she brings into her life. Seven-year-old Ben (Liam Aiken), who fancies himself a magician, is much more relaxed with all the adjustments that must be made.

Director Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire) is gifted with a top-drawer cast of actors who deliver this heart-affecting drama with requisite sincerity and emotional feeling. The film conveys many of the difficulties inherent in the stepfamily arrangement and the insecurities we all tend to feel when we compare ourselves to others. Here the main dramatic clash is between Jackie, the earth mother who feels displaced, and Isabel, the working woman with no children who worries she'll never measure up to supermom.

The two women eventually give up their warfare when Jackie is diagnosed with terminal cancer. As they deal with this reality, the entire family bonds together in a new configuration. They discover the cathartic and healing role music can play in moments of overwhelming grief and loss. And they share gifts that are laden with great meaning and significance.