Based on a bestselling novel by Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina presents a graphic portrait of child abuse that includes rape and battery. Anney (Jennifer Jason Leigh) gives birth to her illegitimate daughter in Greenville during the 1950s. Uncle Earl (Michael Rooker) comes up with the name "Bone" because, as he puts it, "She ain't no bigger than a knucklebone." The poverty-stricken Anney marries Luke (Dermot Mulroney), but he's killed in an auto wreck. Then, while working as a waitress, she meets and marries Glen (Ron Eldard), an angry young man who harbors a deep hatred for his father. He takes out his frustrations on Bone. When Anney loses the son she's carrying and is told she can't have any more children, Glen starts beating his stepdaughter. Even after Anney learns that her husband has raped Bone, she stays with him.

Anjelica Huston directs this riveting drama which is carried on the small shoulders of Jena Malone who plays Bone, the nine-year-old victim who miraculously survives the hell she goes through. The only sanctuary she finds is when she is in the care of the women in her extended family. For Bone, the betrayal of her mother when she stays with Glen is as soul-shattering as the violations she receives at his hands.