A high school senior who gets top grades and seems more level-headed than the adults who surround her, Lucille (Kathryn Erbe) reacts inappropriately when she comes home from school one day to find a note from her mother (Jill Clayburgh), indicating that she has abruptly left the family to, more or less, "find herself."
Lucille quickly types up a new note and scrawls her mother's signature, hoping to lessen the shock for her father, genial retiree Warren Odom (Albert Finney). But instead it just confuses him all the more, since the phrasing is not recognizable as words his wife would use. This is a marriage that has gone on too long to simply unravel, he reasons. But unravel it does.
And from this point on, the family is in a full-tilt tizzy, reacting even more eccentrically than usual to this devastating situation. Lucille drops out of school and kicks her boyfriend (Ethan Hawke) out of her life, Warren settles into the throes of depression and begins eating a steady diet of slapped-together foods (potato chip-and-mayo sandwiches), Lucille's older sister Rae (Suzy Amis) suddenly arrives home married and pregnant . . . and Rae's laid-back husband Billy (Kyle MacLachlan) mostly sits around and wonders how he'll integrate into this strange family.
Eventually, things do start to smooth out as their resilient nature kicks into gear and the family works its way back to normalcy. Mostly.
Directing this delicate, sentimental, life-affirming material is Bruce Beresford, an Australian who seems quite at home in the American South, as witness his "Crimes of the Heart" and "Driving Miss Daisy" (not to mention an earlier masterpiece, "Tender Mercies"). His feeling for the vignette-driven screenplay by Alfred Uhry ("Driving Miss Daisy") and his gentle treatment of the characters is sincere and encouraging, though the film's gentle, ease-on-down-the-road pace may put some of the audience off a bit. And it's unfortunate that a rather lax treatment of teenage sex has to permeate the script, which is otherwise often witty and wise.
The performances here are top-of-the-line from all concerned, though special mention must go to Finney, Laurie, Clayburgh, Alfre Woodard (in a three-scene cameo) and certainly young Erbe, who is an actress to watch for in the future. This is a rich ensemble, offering unexpected pleasures throughout the majority of the film.
"Rich in Love" is rated PG-13 for sex (mostly heard or implied) and profanity.