Middle-aged widow Beatrice Hunsdorfer (Joanne Woodward) and her daughters Ruth (Roberta Wallach) and Matilda (Nell Potts) are struggling to survive in a society they barely understand. Beatrice dreams of opening an elegant tea room but does not have the wherewithal to achieve her lofty goal. Epileptic Ruth is a rebellious adolescent, while shy but highly intelligent and idealistic Matilda seeks solace in her pets and school projects, including one designed to show how small amounts of radium affect marigolds.
Bill, a wealthy businessman, confronts his junkie daughter’s drug-dealing boyfriend; in the ensuing argument, Bill kills him. Panic-stricken, he wanders the streets and eventually stops at a bar. There he runs into a drunken factory worker named Joe, who hates hippies, blacks, and anyone who is “different”, and would like to kill one himself. The two start talking, and Bill reveals his secret to Joe. Complications ensue.