When the movie starts, I thought Isabel was already their stepmom because the kids are at the loft and she's trying to get them up and ready for school. Luke isn't there (it's implied he works a lot and that's one of the reasons why he and Jackie got divorced) and Isabel isn't having much luck with the kids. Ben, who is an aspiring magician, is hiding from her (he seems to do this a lot) and Anna is ticked at her because it's "purple shirt day" at school and Isabel forgot to wash her purple shirt. Isabel makes up some bs excuse of how she didn't forget, she was up all night thinking that Anna shouldn't wear the same color as everyone else and gives her a red shirt to wear instead.
When Isabel starts making breakfast for them, she opens one of the cabinets and that's when she (and the audience) discover that Ben was hiding in there. Um, no. There is no way that child could fit in the cupboard. Especially when we see not only is there a divider, but both shelves are stocked full of boxes and cans of food. Heh, I'm not the only one to complain about this. This is also mentioned in the "goofs" section of its IMDb page.
Jackie arrives to pick them up and the kids are overjoyed to see her. She tells Isabel, "I'll handle it from here." Clearly, she thinks Isabel can't take care of her children.
During a scene between Luke and Isabel at their loft, things are a bit tense because he's going to Pittsburgh for work and tells her he'll call a baby-sitter because he doesn't "expect [her] to handle [the kids herself]." Um, why can't the kids just stay with their mom? I don't understand why Luke would go to the trouble of getting a baby-sitter for the weekend instead of just asking Jackie to take care of them. Of course, the film's plot needs Isabel to watch them, so they can't have the kids stay with their mom. If they had put in a throwaway line about Jackie being busy that weekend, that would have helped a lot. Isabel tells him he means that he doesn't think she can handle them herself. She asks him to give her a chance to watch the kids, so he agrees.
While they're having this conversation, the phone rings three times and Isabel answers each time, but nobody replies. It's actually Anna on the other end and she's clearly pissed every time Isabel answers. I don't know why she just doesn't ask her to speak to her dad; she knows that Isabel lives there so it shouldn't be that surprising Isabel is answering the phone. By the third time Isabel answers the phone and doesn't get a reply, she says, "What is your problem, a$$h@le?" and Anna (finally) replies, "YOU are my problem!" (I thought she was going to call Isabel an a-hole, too, but she doesn't.) I don't know what possessed Isabel to answer the phone like that. Okay, I get things were already a little tense between her and Luke and she was annoyed that nobody was answering the phone, but why not tell Luke to answer the phone the third time it rings? Did it even occur to her that it might be one of his kids calling? She already knows they're not crazy about her so it makes sense they would be petty and not want to talk to her when she answers the phone.
When she takes care of the kids, Luke, the aspiring magician, is making a "magic potion" that he put a spell on and whoever drinks it will go to sleep for one thousand years. It's just hot cocoa and he brings it over to Anna who's working on her drawings (if Luke is an aspiring magician, Anna is an aspiring artist) and she threatens if he spills it on her stuff, she'll put him to sleep for a thousand years. I kept waiting for the cocoa to spill and the siblings to get into a huge fight, but it never happens.
Isabel comes into the room and tells them she has a surprise for them and has them sit on the couch with their eyes closed. She presents them with an adorable golden retriever puppy. Ben is thrilled, but the first thing Anna tells her is she's allergic to dogs. Isabel tells her that her dad didn't say anything about it (so it sounds like she got permission from their father to get them a dog) and Anna replies that he probably doesn't know she's allergic because he's never around. I'm sorry, this is such bs. I think her dad would know if she's allergic to anything. He may be busy with work, but he still spends time with his kids and would know details like that. Also, we'll later see Anna cuddling with the puppy. She's just saying this because she wants to hurt Isabel and is being a brat. She continue being a brat when Isabel tells them they should give the puppy a name and Anna suggests "Isabel" because she smells like her and, as she tells Isabel, "And I'm allergic to you, too. It fits perfectly." She goes to her room and Isabel follows her and tells her she would really like it if they could get along and Anna tells her she doesn't have to listen to her because "you're not my mother", to which Isabel replies, "Thank God for that!" When she realizes she's hurt Anna's feelings, she tells her, "What I meant to say is you have a great mom. You don't need another one." Heh, nice "save", Isabel. She adds that she would like to be treated with some respect when Anna is in this house. Anna tells her this is her dad's house, but Isabel is quick to remind her that this is her home too. Anna tells her to get out of her room, so she does and this is when we see Anna pick up the puppy who's come over to her door and she cuddles with it for the rest of the night. One thing I like about this movie is that the relationship between Isabel and her boyfriend's/fiancé's kids (especially Anna) is very realistic. It makes sense why these kids don't like her because they want their parents to get back together and they resent Isabel very much.
Isabel reads to Ben who tells her to drink the cocoa because he made it specifically for her. She starts to get very sleepy and eventually falls asleep in the middle of reading. I thought Ben would think his magic potion worked, you know, since he said it would put anyone who drank it asleep for a thousand years, but instead he tells Anna that he killed her. It was all just very odd.
The next morning, Isabel is late arriving with the kids late to Jackie's (amazingly ridiculously gorgeous) house. Jackie is mad because it's 7:23 and Isabel and the kids were supposed to be there at 6:30 because Anna had a riding lesson. (Ugh, who would want to have a riding lesson that early? I used to take take horseback riding lessons and they were seven in the evening!) Isabel tells her that it's Monday and Annas's riding lessons are on Tuesday, but Jackie corrects her and says, "Except for the third Tuesday of the month, which switches to Monday." Okay, that sounds way complicated! Also, wouldn't Anna know this and remind Isabel? Unless, she specifically didn't tell her to sabotage her which is I'm guessing what happened. Isabel asks for a cup of coffee and Jackie says she doesn't have any. She must be the only adult in the country not to have coffee in her house! Though, granted, I don't keep coffee in my apartment. (What's the point when both Starbucks and Scooters are less than five minutes from where you live?)
You can tell there's already tension between Isabel and Anna because when the kids go upstairs to get ready for school, Anna is glaring at her. I thought she was still mad at Isabel about the previous night, but when Jackie asks her what happened, Isabel tells her that Anna saw her and Luke in the shower that morning when she "sort of walked in without even knocking." Who goes into a bathroom without knocking when the door is closed? And didn't Anna hear the shower running? I completely blame this on Anna...she's old enough to know better. Jackie wants to know if either her or Luke talked to Anna about it afterwards and Isabel tells her no, that she thought it would be uncomfortable for her and Jackie responds, "You mean for you." Uh, if I were Anna, I wouldn't want anyone to bring up me walking in on my dad with his girlfriend in the shower. No, I don't need to have a "conversation" about that; I'd rather just pretend it never happened!
The two women start arguing and Jackie tells Isabel she could never be a mother because she is so self-involved and Isabel tells her maybe the problem is Anna and that "she is a spoiled, wiseass little brat." Look, I don't disagree with Isabel, but maybe not the best thing to say to the girl's mother. Of course, this pisses off Jackie and she tells Isabel to get out of her house.
The next Saturday afternoon, both the kids are with Isabel in Central Park at a professional photo shoot because both their parents are busy. Isabel is shooting a woman with a long blonde braid wig (she is supposed to be Rapunzel) at Belvedere Castle in Central Park (I've been to Central Park and had no idea there was a "castle" there!). A guy in rock climbing gear is climbing up the castle wall, using her braid. I have no idea what product they're selling here. Rock climbing paraphernalia? I had to laugh when Ben tells his sister, "Wouldn't it be cool if her hair came out of her armpit?" That just seems like something a little boy would find "cool". Anna had the same reaction as I did; she looks disgusted and replies, "Sick."
The kids start whining to Isabel that they're hungry. Apparently, they've been there for five hours! Good Lord, that is a long time! Isabel tosses Luke her coin purse and tells the kids to get some ice cream. We see time has elapsed and Anna has fallen asleep after eating her ice cream. Ben isn't with her and Isabel wakes Anna up, asking where he is. Anna doesn't know and a panicked Isabel starts screaming his name. (That has to be a terrifying situation to be in; my mind would go straight to the worst possible scenario). Anna thinks he may have been kidnapped (apparently, her mind also goes straight to the worst possible scenario), but Isabel assures her (but let's face its, she's trying to assure herself, mostly) that isn't the case; that "he's just hiding."
We never see Ben get found; but she must have called the police and they must have told them a police officer found him because Isabel and Ben's parents come rushing to the police station where he is sitting with some officers, showing them a magic trick. The police tell them they found him at the zoo. Isabel apologizes to Jackie, but she ignores her and tells Luke, "That woman is to have nothing more to do with my children" and Luke corrects her and says, "Our children." Jackie tells both of them she's getting a court order and that Isabel "will never be with these children alone again." I understand why she's so upset, but she's being a tad overdramatic. She must think the same thing because later, when Luke asks her not to go through with it, she tells him she's going to give him one last chance.
Soon after, Jackie is late picking up the kids from school. So late, in fact, that the school calls Isabel's place of work and ask if she can pick them up. The kids can't believe their mom forgot about them. Ben tells Isabel that's something she would do and Isabel tells them that's exactly what happened. She makes up a story about how their mom had to help a friend with an emergency and called to ask her to pick up the kids. Isabel says she got caught up at work and just forgot. At this moment, we see Jackie walk in and take the kids home. She looks at Isabel, but doesn't tell her thank you or anything. She and the kids just walk out of the school.
Later, Jackie asks Isabel if she can watch the kids Saturday afternoon because she has an appointment. This appointment is a doctor's appointment and Jackie finds out she has cancer. She is meeting Luke at a restaurant and he tells her he has news too, so she tells him to go first. Clearly, she is procrastinating in telling him the news! Luke's news isn't too surprising. He tells Jackie he's going to ask Isabel to marry him and he wants her to be okay with it for the kids' sake. He knows if Jackie will be okay with it, so will the kids. When he asks what her news is, she says it was nothing and that they "have quite enough to deal with" just with his news. Yep, totally avoiding telling him!
So that is exactly what Anna does. Halloween soon rolls around and Ben is dressed as a wizard (or maybe he's dressed as a magician dressed as a wizard?) and Anna is dressed as Elvis. (Isn't sixth grade a little too old to still be trick-or-treating?) It is still broad daylight when they're trick or treating, so they must be doing this around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I looked up to see what day Halloween was on in 1998 and it was on a Saturday, so they didn't have to worry about school, so they could have easily gone in the evening. This seems so weird to me...usually when kids trick or treat, it's already dark. I understand that they probably did it this way because it's probably more convenient to film during the day. Anna tells her mom she's been thinking about what she said about Isabel and to see the "good side" of her. Perhaps she took her mother's advice a little too well because she goes on about how Isabel knows all about "clothes and stuff" and that she knows "every rock 'n' roll song ever written" and she knows all the "cool junk food places to eat." She concludes with, "Once you get to know her, she's kinda cool." I can see a twelve-year-old girl being into a young, cool stepmom type who knows about clothes and junk food. The rock 'n' roll music? Eh, young kids wouldn't care about that. Now if Isabel knew about current music, then she would definitely be in with Anna. She tells her mom not to tell Isabel what she told her. Oh, Anna, I don't think you have to worry about that!
Turns out Jackie is starting to feel a little insecure (and we get many instances of this) that when Anna drops the kids off at her house after picking them up from school, Jackie, right in front of Isabel, tells Anna that they are going to the Pearl Jam concert that night. After an excited Anna tells her mom she's the coolest and goes to get ready, Jackie tells Isabel, "That was a great idea, thanks." This is a low blow because Isabel had asked Jackie if she could take Anna to this concert and when Jackie found out it was on a Thursday night, she said absolutely not, she's too young for that. (I think she would've come up with an excuse not to let Isabel take her if it was on weekend night). I guess Jackie wasn't worried about it being on a school night; she just wanted her daughter to think she was the cool one.
Jackie has started undergoing chemotherapy and she still hasn't told anyone about her illness. At Anna's soccer game, Isabel asks Jackie if she's feeling all right and says she looks a "little tired." Jackie tells her, "I hate when people say that. It's a polite way of telling you look like sh*t." Yes! This annoys me too! Especially if you're not tired when people tell you that! Luckily (er, maybe that's not the right word) I always AM tired so when people tell me that, it's usually because I am! Isabel tells her she's noticed she's been busy lately and asks her if she's seeing anyone. Jackie tells her she's been spending some time with her old boss and "trying to decide whether or not [she's] going back to Random House."
Jackie starts her chemotherapy treatment and isn't doing to well. She calls Isabel to tell her she got a call from Random House and they want her to come in that afternoon to meet with the editor. She won't be back in time to pick up Ben at a birthday party and asks Isabel if she get him and Isabel tells her she can.
For some reason, when Isabel is driving down the highway, she has the window open.... even though it's November. And they're in New York. There's absolutely no reason why she should have the window rolled down, but they need to have her lose the piece of paper with the address she wrote down on it. She's holding it while she's also looking at the map and while she's messing with the map, the little piece of paper flies out the window. I also thought she was going to lose the map, but she doesn't. They need this to happen so she can call Random House to ask Jackie for the address, but only for her to find out that Jackie, in fact, is NOT there and the woman tells her she hasn't seen Jackie since she left Random House eleven years ago.
Can we go back to that note for one second? The one that Jackie's colleague wrote to her that said, "Everything will work out perfectly." This seems very weird to write to someone who has cancer. (I'm assuming the friend knew why she was coming to L.A.) Why would you tell someone who has cancer that "Everything will work out perfectly."? (Spoiler alert: it doesn't). That seems a little...presumptuous to assume that.
Now that Isabel knows about Jackie's cancer, she really has no choice but to tell Luke and together, they tell the kids. Anna is angry that her mom never told her about it until now even though she's known about it for a long time. Luke defends her and says she wanted to "wait until the right time" and Jackie tells them she didn't want to scare them and wanted to wait until her sickness was "smaller." Anna says that Isabel should be with them because it's Thursday and that's her day to pick them up. Ben says he'd rather be with his mom and Anna (quite harshly) tells him their mom is dying and Isabel is their new mom now (not quite yet, Anna, hold your horses!) She accuses her mother of lying to her and how she can never trust her again. When she runs upstairs, her dad tells her, "You do not run out on your mother!", she stops, turns around, looks back at him, and replies, "No, that's your job." Ooh, harsh burn! I audibly gasped when she said that.
So later that evening, after Anna has had time to process everything and after Luke has left, we get the scene where Jackie dances and lip synchs to "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" with her kids. Like I mentioned earlier, this is the only scene from the movie I remembered.
During the kids' school's Thanksgiving pageant (it's kinda weird that Anna and Ben attend the same school since he's in elementary school and she should be in middle school, though technically I guess sixth grade (I'm pretty sure that's the grade she was in) could still be elementary school, but by 1998, that seemed kind of passé), Isabel tells Jackie that Anna's been "going out" with the "class heartthrob", Brad, for two weeks. For the record, Brad looks like a low-rent Devon Sawa. Very low-rent Devon Sawa. That day, during lunch, he publicly announced he was breaking up with her. Isabel knows all this because Anna told her when she picked her up from school that afternoon. She also told Isabel she cried in the bathroom (aw, poor thing) and she didn't tell her mom because she didn't want her making a big deal out of it. Isabel is telling Jackie all of this because Anna asked Isabel what she should do and Isabel told her she should talk to her mom and gives notice to Jackie that Anna's going to ask her tomorrow so she should be ready.
The next day is Thanksgiving and as Jackie and Anna are setting the table, Anna tells her mom what she told Isabel yesterday and the reason Brad is breaking up with her is because she didn't let him kiss her with her mouth open (and before you ask, yes, Jackie did ask her if she let him kiss her with her mouth closed and Anna just gives her mom a look) and apparently Brad told his little minion friends this because every time they saw her, they would call her names like "Ice Princess." Hell, I would embrace a name like that. Makes you sound cool like you're Daenerys Targaryen. She says she retaliates and calls Brad names like "fart face" and Jackie's advice for her is that she should just ignore him. Since all he wants is the attention and once he doesn't get it, "he might try a little harder, but then he'll get frustrated and give up." Anna asks her mom if she thinks that's what Isabel would do and slightly throws shades at her mother when she tells her, "She's younger. Maybe she remembers how to do this." Hmm, I think Anna wanted Isabel's advice on this all along. To be fair, she DID ask for Isabel's advice and she was the one who told Anna to talk to her mom.
Isabel continues and tells her after she says that, Anna will walk away, whip back around and say, "The guy I see is in high school and he laughs his ass off whenever we talk about you." She adds that there will be a "suitable boy" with "a very expensive bike" (she's talking about a moped, not a bicycle, for the record). "Suitable boy" makes me laugh because it makes it sound like she's going to find an average-looking boy, at best. Isabel does clear things up when she tells Anna, "He will be a stone fox, even if I have to call an escort service." Okay, eww, I hope she's joking because it is highly inappropriate (and some might even say illegal) to have a guy from an escort service flirt with a twelve-year-old girl. It's a good thing Jackie wasn't privy to this conversation! Also, consdering that Isabel is a fashion photographer, she has ample access to many good-looking (and hopefully age appropriate) male models to play the role of "Anna's new hot older boyfriend."
So Monday afternoon rolls around and Isabel is standing by her car pretty much spying on Anna and Brad and everything that goes down between them. We know she's not even supposed to be there to pick up the kids because she's surprised when Jackie shows up and asks her what she's doing there and Jackie tells her she's there to pick up her kids. (Duh, Isabel!) So they're both watching Anna performing the skit that Isabel thought up for her and after she tells off Brad, she walks over to the bike rack and hugs a good-looking young male mode and he kisses her (well, it's more like a peck on the cheek). I would say he was no older than sixteen so at least he looked age appropriate. Still a little weird that a high schooler would date a girl who attends elementary school (or even middle school, but considering both Anna and Ben were waiting for Isabel outside the school together makes me think they attend the same school, unless one of their schools is nearby and the other walked to this school to wait for Isabel together...but I think I'm giving way too much thought about this and both kids go to the same school, thus making Anna a sixth grader who attends elementary school and it's super weird that a good-looking high school boy (or any high schooler) for that matter would ever date someone in elementary school). The more I write about this, the more I understand why Jackie was so upset!
All of Brad's friends are ribbing him, calling him a "loser" and he just looks like an idiot with his mouth hanging open. Yeah, he doesn't look so hot compared to that male model! Jackie asks Isabel, "Who is that? He looks familiar. He looks like that guy in his underwear for Calvin Klein." Isabel corrects her, "Fully dressed for Ralph Lauren." Ha! I wouldn't be surprised if Jackie was right and he was also in the CK ad. After the male model gives Anna another peck on the cheek, she runs up to Isabel and hugs her, exclaiming, "It worked! It worked!" She should have at least pretended to leave with the model, but Brad did leave first, so I guess he wouldn't have seen anything.
Of course, Jackie wants to know what's going on, so Isabel has to tell her what happened and she and Jackie get into a fight about the advice Isabel gave Anna. Jackie is not happy about certain words Isabel told Anna to use and the fact that she lied about having a boyfriend. Yeah, but she only lied to her lame, jerky ex and his equally lame minions, so I don't think she should be getting upset about that. Isabel asks her what she has done and Jackie replies, "You have turned her into you" and Isabel tells her she is trying and the she has the children's "best interests at heart."
After their fight, they meet later at a restaurant and Jackie admits she lost Ben in the grocery store a year ago. Isabel confesses that she feels inferior compared to Jackie about being a mother; that she will never live up to her. Jackie has the history with the kids. Isabel talks about the future with Anna's wedding. She'll be in a room with Anna helping her with her dress and telling her how beautiful she is and she fears that Anna will be thinking, "I wish my mom was here." Jackie tells her that her fear is that Anna WON'T be thinking that. Then she says, "The truth is, she doesn't have to choose. She can have us both. Love us both. She will be a better person because of me. And because of you." She says that she has their past and Isabel can have their future. Susan Sarandon is crying, Julia Roberts is crying, I'M crying! OMG, the tears are flowing everywhere!
The last scene takes place on Christmas and everyone is celebrating at Jackie's (astonishingly enchanting) house. In an earlier scene, her doctor had told her the chemotherapy hadn't worked but there are other options available like treatment in Paris or Switzerland. Jackie tells her she wants to spend what time she has left at home with her family. We aren't given a time frame of how exactly how much time she has left, but I think it's pretty apparent that this will be her last Christmas and it's so sad!
Isabel, Luke, and the kids are downstairs and Jackie is upstairs in her room where she has requested some time alone with each kid separately so they can open their present and essentially have a "good-bye" scene with her. I was confused at first and thought maybe she was too weak to come downstairs to spend Christmas with the rest of the family, but that isn't the case. She just wants to have some quality time alone with each of her kids, then she will come downstairs.
Ben goes upstairs first and Jackie has made him a magician's cape that have pictures of them together patched onto it. Ben asks his mom if she's dying and is sad that he won't see her anymore. She tells him since he's a magician he should know the secret of "just because you don't see something, doesn't mean it's not there", alluding to she'll always be with him inside and his heart and that they can still meet inside his dreams. He says it's not the same thing, which he is right! Before he leaves, he asks her to make sure his dad knows how to double knot his sneakers the way she does for school in the morning. Jackie says she will and looks so sad. It's so sad because he knows she won't always be around to do that!
Anna comes in with a cup of tea for her mom and opens her present: a quilt Jackie has made with pictures of them together. She tells her daughter, "It's like a scrapbook you can keep warm with." Things start to get real when Anna asks her mom if she's scared and Jackie replies that she was mostly scared for her (Anna), but isn't anymore because she knows she's going to be okay. This shows real growth of the relationship between her and Isabel. Mother and daughter have a nice heart to heart, then Anna tells her, "I don't want to say goodbye. I'm going to miss you so much!" Oh, God, and here come the waterworks again!
Everyone (including Jackie) is downstairs opening the other gifts and Isabel is taking pictures. There's an earlier montage in the movie where she was taking photos of Jackie with her kids - reading to them, riding horses, ice skating, so it's nice that they'll have these memories of their mom's last moments to look back on. Isabel has the kids sits on the couch with their parents and takes their photo. Then Jackie says, "Let's get one with the whole family. Isabel?" and invites her to sit on the couch with them and Isabel sets the timer on her camera and the movie ends. And I'm probably still crying!
Oh, in case you were wondering, here is a picture of the house I keep raving about. It's located in Nyack, New York and it only costs a little over 3 million! Luke and Jackie must have been making really good money if they could afford that! I wish I could create that house on Sims 3 (yes, I still play Sims 3; I could care less about Sims 4!), but I majorly suck at building things so that will never happen!