In 1973, when Frank Bledsoe and his 18-year-old niece Beth take a road trip from Manhattan to Creekville, South Carolina, for the family patriarch's funeral, they're unexpectedly joined by Frank's lover, Walid.
In 1973, 18-year-old Beth Bledsoe moves from her home in Creekville, South Carolina to attend college in New York City. Her uncle Frank Bledsoe is a professor at the college, and is the relative she feels closest to as he is more refined and thoughtful than the rest of the family. However, when she shows up unannounced to a party at Frank's apartment with a boy she likes, she discovers that Frank is secretly gay and has been living with a man named Walid ("Wally") for over ten years. Frank rejects the advance of the boy Beth came with, then cares for Beth when she gets too drunk. He pleads with her not to tell anyone else in the family his secret, and she agrees.
The next day, Beth's grandfather and Frank's father, Daddy Mac, dies of a sudden heart attack. Frank agrees to drive Beth back to South Carolina for the funeral. Wally asks to come along and meet Frank's family, but Frank refuses, not yet ready to reveal the truth to them. However, Wally rents a car and follows them most of the way there; when Frank catches him, he agrees to let him come but stay in a motel during the funeral, fearful of what the locals might do if they discover their true relationship.
Along their journey, Frank has flashbacks to his teenage years and a sexual relationship he had with another boy named Samuel; his father caught them in bed together and called Frank an abomination against God. To cope with these memories, Frank begins secretly drinking; he asks Beth not to tell Wally as Frank is a recovering alcoholic.
Beth and Frank arrive home to attend the funeral. At the reading of the will, Frank learns he has been cut out of his inheritance, and the will exposes Frank's homosexuality to the family. An emotional Frank flees, driving away erratically while drinking heavily. A panicked Beth rushes to inform Wally, who drives them to the nearby lake where he suspects Frank went. A final flashback reveals that Frank told Samuel they could not be together as it displeased God, and Samuel drowned himself in the lake shortly after. Wally and Beth discover Frank's clothes sitting on a dock by the water, but Frank is nowhere to be seen.
Wally and Beth return to the motel, where Wally grieves for Frank's supposed death. However, a drunken Frank returns, claiming he just went for a swim. An argument ensues as Wally confronts Frank for his drinking; Frank punches Wally and calls him a faggot before fleeing again. They later reconcile at Samuel's grave as Frank expresses guilt for his death. Frank laments that he has no family left; Wally reassures him that he is Frank's family. After an impassioned speech from Beth, Frank agrees to let Wally meet his family. While Frank's brother-in-law is unable to morally accept the truth, his siblings and mother have no problem with it and welcome Wally warmly.