In the beginning….
Bakersfield, California: 1994
In her classroom, a boy--Diego-- reads from a primer. He passes the book to a young Annie, and the other students giggle as Annie looks around nervously. Annie has a reading disability, and the students laugh as she makes up her own words. After class, Annie gets on the school bus and the other students tease her. When one of them calls her a "tard", Annie hits her with her lunch box.
Later, the teacher talks to Annie and her parents Carl and Crysilda. The teacher points out that it's Annie's third "incident" and suggests that they send her to a special school. Carl objects to the more politically correct version of the Br'er Rabbit story the teacher had the kids read, and says that Annie is bored with the "propaganda". Crysilda says that the school is an open sewer, and Carl refuses to let anyone proscribe medication for Annie's condition.
The Wilkes drive home, and Carl and Crysilda argue about Annie. Annie watches the other children in the neighborhood play. Later, Carl takes Annie up to the attic and says that he's going to make a real school for her. Annie wonders if there's something wrong with her, and he talks about the real story of "The Laughing Place". Br'er Fox wants to eat Br'er Rabbit, Carl says that's the real world, and Br'er Rabbit figured out that The Laughing Place is anywhere they decide. He tells Annie that he's going to tell her a story, The Ravening Angel, and she's going to help him.
Carl reads Annie some of his story and says that the modern publishing world needs everything on computer. He's going to have Annie type his story into the computer, and teaches her how to type. Crysilda calls Carl down, and he angrily goes downstairs but first tells Annie that he'll soon have pages for her... his "number one fan".
Years later, Joy sits on the porch and reads Carl's story on her laptop
Annie transcribes his story as he works on the lawn, stumbling through the words. Carl asks if she likes it, and Annie assures him that she loves it. He says that hearing his story in her voice makes it real, and they talk about the characters in the story. Annie complains about the "bad guy", and Carl says that they're not all one thing. Crysilda returns home with groceries and Annie goes to help her, and her mother puts on rubber gloves and cleans up the counter when she sees Carl's coffee mug with a ring beneath it. She tells Carl not to smoke in the house, and he vaguely agrees. They discuss Annie's reading, and Crysilda isn't convinced Annie will ever succeed at the GEDs.
Annie returns with more groceries and notices the tension between her parents, and Crysilda says that she wants to hear Annie read the pages. Annie hesitantly reads them, nervously stumbling over the words, and Carl says that Crysilda makes her nervous. He insists that Annie is getting better, and Crysilda reminds him that he's there because he doesn't have a job. Crysilda says that she has a real job as a nurse and Carl's writing is twaddle. She tells him that he'll never finish his book, and Carl storms out.
Annie and Carl play tetherball in the yard, and Crysilda watches them from the window. Later, Crysilda cleans Annie's teeth and tells her that she'll stay with her because she's only working weekends, and Carl is going back to the bank. Annie insists that Carl is teaching her fine, and her mother says that it's always recess with them. Crysilda assures Annie that she's so much better and tells her to forget Carl's story and focus on the GED so she can get out of the place. Annie admires Crysilda's nurse's uniform, and Crysilda tells her to get a medical degree and become a doctor because that's what people respect. She obsessively flosses Annie's teeth, talking about how dirty the human mouth is. Crysilda realizes that Carl is letting her eat candy again, and warns her that the rot creeps in.
Abdi tells Joy that he has to go somewhere. He drives to the construction site with Joy and meets with a man while she sits in the car. Annie comes to the car to talk to Joy, and Joy says that they're done talking when she says that they're done. Her mother tells her that she would never hurt her, and she hit a bad patch but she's through it and will be even better when they leave Castle Rock. Joy says that Annie needs to talk to someone, and Annie insists that she puts her head in the doctors' hands, she puts Joy in their hands as well and knows they can't be trusted. Her daughter asks who her father's name is, and Annie insists that he's a bad man. Annie warns that it's not a nice story, but Annie demands the truth. When Annie doesn't, Joy tells her to get out or she'll scream.
When Abdi comes back, Joy tells him that Annie is leaving. He opens the rear car door and tells Annie to get out, and Annie reluctantly does so.
A young Annie continues reading Carl's story, and Rita Green comes up to the attic and says hello. She introduces herself and Annie ignores her, and Crysilda says that Rita is Annie's "special help" to pass the GEDs. Rita tells Crysilda that she needs a minute alone with Annie, and a surprised Crysilda leaves. Annie says that she likes to read Carl's book, and explains that she makes sure things match up. She tells Rita that she's not very good at reading, and Rita offers her a copy of the "real" Pinocchio. Annie talks about how real stories have to have consequences, and Rita suggests that there's more than one writer in the family.
Later, Rita helps Annie learn to read. Annie pounds her first in frustration, saying that it's not working, and Rita tells her to take it slow. The girl shows Rita Annie's office, and reads Pinocchio to her. Annie finishes the book and wonders why it ends with the lying Pinocchio getting a happy ending. The girl says that they should have killed Pinocchio. As Carl comes in, Rita says that in the original story Pinocchio was killed but the editor had Collodi had change it because the ending was too dark. Annie insists that kids should be scared and if someone is bad, they should pay.
Carl overhears them talking and asks for a word with Rita. Rita sends Annie out, and suggests that Annie might have skipped a few developmental steps. When Carl interrupts her, Rita tells him not to until she's finished. The tutor says that Annie is smart and Carl's work is beautiful, but Annie needs to write her own story. Carl is touched that Rita likes his work, and she says that it's good. He thanks her for the compliment and says that he loves to hear Annie read his work.
Rita continues teaching Annie how to read, and the two become friends. Carl secretly watches Rita, and one day Annie asks a pregnant Rita if she ever heard why her parents took her out of regular school and didn't let her go back. Rita tells her that none of it matters, and what does matter is that Annie will pass the GEDs in a month. Annie wonders who she'll teach then, and Rita says that she'll teach her own child. The girl hesitantly touches Rita's stomach and says that she can't wait to meet her, and asks where the baby's father is. Rita tells her that it's complicated, and Annie insists that he's either a good man or he isn't. The tutor says that it isn't that simple, and Annie tells Rita that she's good and that's simple.
One night, Crysilda stares at Annie as she studies. Crysilda finally says that she's sure Annie will pass and that will be enough: her just getting by. The "dirty birds" will say that's enough, just like Carl did when Crysilda was barely a woman. Crysilda gets up and pours herself a drink.
Later, Annie reads Carl's story to him and he admires her improved reading ability. He asks if Annie likes his story, and she says that she loves it. Carl tells her that he has a publisher interested, and Annie tells him that he found his Laughing Place. Her father says that he's going to be moving out for a while, and he needs to figure out his place in the world. Carl says that he's a searcher, not a settler. Crying, Annie asks what he's looking for and Carl admits that he doesn't know. His daughter begs him not to go, and Carl assures her that it isn't because of her. He says that it's stuff between him and Crysilda, and in a year everything will be perfect: Annie will go to college and Carl will go on his book tour. Carl promises her that he'll always be her number-one fan, and Annie hugs him.
Annie goes to the Mellow Tiger, sits down, and orders a vodka on the rocks.
Annie gets a letter saying she's been accepted into college. She shows it to Crysilda and then calls Carl and tells him the news. Later, Annie and Crysilda drive to the college to take the tour, and stop on the way home. Crysilda asks Annie why she doesn't want to go further away, and Annie says that Carl went to school there. Her mother says that there's no place for a good woman in the dirty world, and she's the only one who has been on her side. Crysilda tells Annie that there's things she doesn't know, looks at the river near where they've parked, and then tells Annie that she sees how to make it right and get away clean. She says that once the rot takes root, it's always there whether they see it or not. They get in the car, Crysilda locks the doors, and drives into the river.
Later, Annie swims to the surface... alone.
Carl and Annie go to Crysilda's funeral, and afterward Carl tells Annie that he should never have gone anywhere with Crysilda like she was. He assures Annie that he's home to stay, and Annie doesn't answer.
Three months later, Carl tells Annie that they could fill out her college applications together. She ignores him.
The months go by and Annie sits silently, watching TV. Carl puts on a tie and sets the table for dinner, and Annie asks him if someone is coming. He tells her that two someones are coming, and Rita pulls up with her baby daughter Angeline. They go inside and Rita asks Annie about the GED, and Annie says that she remembered what Rita taught her and it's good to see her. Carl tells Annie that they wanted to talk to her how he and Rita have been spending a lot of time together. Annie realizes that they've been involved and asks if Carl is Angeline's daughter. She grabs a knife and asks Carl how could he, and then drops the knife and runs out. Carl tells Rita that Annie will be fine once she gets used to the idea.
Later, Rita and Angeline move in with Carl and Annie. Annie moves her things up to the attic to make room for the baby's nursery, and laughs and then cries as she writes. She finds Carl working at his typewriter and walks away. Carl and Rita discuss whether Annie should go on medication, and Carl insists that Annie doesn't need it. He doesn't want it clouding the "real" Annie, and Annie watches them from the window.
One day Annie asks to hold Angeline. Rita lets her, and after a minute the baby breaks into tears. The older woman takes Angeline back, assuring her that it's okay.
One night Annie goes to the nursery and looks down on Angeline in her crib. As she reaches for the baby, Rita comes in and picks up the crying baby, comforting her. Annie walks out without a word.
Carl continues writing,, and Annie stands outside on the lawn and watches him through the window. He calls to Rita that he's done, and Annie walks off when she hears him. The next day, Carl holds a backyard party to celebrate, and calls on everyone to toast Rita.
That night, Annie sits in her attic room and reads The Ravening Angel. It's dedicated to Rita, Carl's "Laughing Place". Annie closes the book, scowling in rage.
Later, Carl is in bed with Rita and hears a banging noise from Annie's room. He goes up and Annie furiously says that he dedicated his book to Rita. Carl tells her that she can have more than one Laughing Place, and Annie shoves him down the stairs. He falls through the railing and hits the floor, landing on a broken piece of wood. Annie stares at her father in shock, and tries to pull him off the wood. As Carl's blood drips on the floor, he tells Annie that it's okay. He screams in pain as she continues trying to pull him off the wood, and finally dies.
Angeline cries, and Rita comes out and sees Annie standing over Carl's body. Annie says that she thought Rita was good, picks up a pair of scissors, and chases Rita into the nursery. The girl stabs Rita in the stomach, then picks up Angeline.
Joy finishes The Ravening Angel and reads the dedication.
The blood-covered young Annie walks through the woods, carrying the box. Angeline is inside, crying, and Annie comes to the river. The girl sets the box down, collapses to her knees, and then opens the box and takes Angeline out. Annie walks into the river, telling Angeline that she's on her side, and then realizes that there's a way they can both get away clean. She starts to lower the baby into the water, and the baby smiles and laughs at her. Annie stares at her, realizes that Angeline is laughing, and clutches the baby to her chest.
Annie sits at the bar, alone.
Joy looks up Rita's name on the Internet and finds her phone number.
Rita wakes up, gasping.
Ace joins Annie at the bar.
Joy calls Rita and asks her if she knows about The Ravening Angel. Rita asks who it is.
- Lizzy Caplan as Annie Wilkes
- Tim Robbins as Reginald Merrill
- Garrett Hedlund as John "Ace" Merrill
- Elsie Fisher as Joy
- Yusra Warsama as Dr. Nadia Omar
- Barkhad Abdi as Abdi Omar
- Matthew Alan as Chris Merrill