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Drama professor Lawrence Mackay is launching his career as a New York newspaper theater critic by reviewing his friend, producer Alfred North's, new Broadway musical. On the eve of opening night, Larry's dutiful wife Kate is visited at their apartment by aspiring playwright and cab driver Joe Positano, who hopes that Larry will read his play. After Kate finishes settling her mischievous boys David, Gabriel, George and toddler Adam, who are dropping water balloons on passersby, she agrees to give Larry the play, knowing her husband is generous with his advice. Meanwhile, at Columbia University, where Larry is giving his last lecture as a professor, his students berate him for becoming a critic, confident that he will find fault with every performance just to promote his own career. Later after the show, Larry feels terribly guilty that as an honest reviewer, he has to pan his friend's play, but Kate encourages him to tell the truth.
The next morning, when Alfred interrupts the Mackay breakfast because he is upset about the review, Larry tries to reassure his friend that he wrote it in the kindest way possible. Distraught about the confrontation, Larry and Kate have breakfast at a local restaurant, where Deborah Vaughn, the star of Alfred's show, slaps Larry in front of a cameraman who captures the embarrassing moment on film. When the picture makes front-page headlines, much to Alfred and Deborah's chagrin, Larry, with encouragement from Kate, publishes a column alongside the photo claiming the show's popularity is dependent not on Deborah's paltry acting but on her sub-par derriere. Days later at a society cocktail party, Larry enjoys being the center of attention while Kate is largely ignored by the pretentious crowd. When Deborah seeks Larry's forgiveness and saunters in front of him hoping that he will reconsider his opinion of her behind, Larry gladly approves to charm the crowd. Meanwhile, Alfred warns Kate that Larry is on his way to becoming a critic who thinks his own jokes are better than any play he reviews. As they leave, Larry ridicules the play opening that evening.
At home after attending the drama, an infuriated Kate asks Larry if he disliked the play before seeing it, alluding to his cocktail party remark. Larry assures her he had not prejudged it, thus appeasing Kate. Days later, as Larry reads Joe's biblical play, he harshly criticizes him for writing about an era he has not researched. Offended, Joe tells Larry that he is not the same man from whom Joe once sought an opinion. Soon after, Larry and Kate discover that the lease on their apartment is about to expire and talk about their plans to move to a large house outside the city. Although Larry agreed to the move earlier, he now wants to remain in the city to enjoy his recent success and fame. Using her feminine wiles, Kate claims that his work comes first and calls the entire family just a "parasite" on his burgeoning career. Larry momentarily sees his arrogance and agrees to the move. With few choices available, the family decides on a huge dilapidated gothic house in Hooten, 70 miles outside New York. With the help of Kate's mother, Suzie Robinson, the entire family set about fixing up the house. When community leaders Mrs. Hunter, Dr. Sprouk and Rev. Dr. McQuarry ask Larry and Kate to help them find a play for the local theater group, Larry states that he has no time for trivial projects. Kate is furious with Larry, but Suzie cautions her not to be overly critical of her husband. Later in the city, Deborah finds Larry dining alone and makes a pass at him, but Larry politely refuses and then returns home to find an apology from Kate. On the children's first day of school, Larry refuses the principal's request for the parents to volunteer, claiming the school is performing "moral blackmail."
The next day, when community leaders once again ask the couple for a suggestion on a play, Kate calls Alfred for a suggestion. Alfred gives her a play that Larry wrote as a young man, retitling the play and author to disguise its origins from Kate. Meanwhile, when Larry complains that he is unable to write because of the noisy renovations, Kate suggests that he stay in New York until the house is finished. Days later, Kate watches incredulously as Deborah insinuates in a televised interview that she and Larry are having an affair. Suzie warns Kate that although Larry has not had an affair, her daughter must lavish some attention on him or lose him. Back in a quaint coffeehouse in the city, Deborah tries to entice Larry again, but Larry dismisses her and returns to Hooten and attends Kate's rehearsal. Suddenly recognizing the dialogue from his old play and embarrassed by his bad writing, Larry refuses to give the theater group the rights to the play despite the fact that the benefit performance is already sold out. Kate takes him aside, telling him she will never forgive him unless he relinquishes the rights.
On the night of the show's opening, Alfred shows Kate Larry's review of the play. He writes that he is grateful that someone rejected his bad writing early on and promises to continue reviewing truthfully, even cruelly, if necessary, advising audiences to avoid the Hooten production. Later, Joe visits Larry at his New York hotel room and gratefully attributes his decision to stop writing to Larry. Deborah then arrives at the hotel and announces that since Larry has become mean he has gained popularity. Suzie, the third visitor, admonishes Larry to be unwavering and berates Kate for "pretending to be smart." Understanding that his insensitive "strong" routine has only left him sad and lonely, Larry, ready to return to Hooten, heads for the elevator, where he finds Kate, who offers to sell the house. However, Larry admits his guilt and asks that things remain the same. As they return to their Hooten home, the boys are eagerly waiting with a water balloon to christen their parents' homecoming.