This macabre, whimsical, erotic, dark, seriocomic film is a complex tale about an eccentric family and the psychological and emotional maelstroms that follow them around from New England to New York to Vienna, where the Hotel New Hampshire is located. Writer-director Tony Richardson worked from the convoluted novel by John Irving that covers most universally saleable topics – homosexuality, death, incest, abandonment, Nazis, masochism, terrorists, rape, mental instability, and anarchists. The children in the family are the main focus: John (Rob Lowe) is a womanizing high-school student with a deep-rooted desire for his own sister; Franny (Jodie Foster) is the eldest daughter, a victim of a gang rape, now morbidly fascinated by one of the rapists, and equally attracted to her brother with incestuous desire; Frank (Paul McCrane) is the younger gay brother; and Lilly (Jennifer Dundas) is the little sister who blossoms into a famous author. Associated with the family is Suzie the Bear (Nastassja Kinski) who is not secure enough to come out of her bear suit.
In a world where a deadly zombie virus has infected mankind, a single cure has been found. The cure, a treatment called the "Return Protein" which stays the effects of the virus in its host. With daily injections, the "Returned" are able to live as though they were never bit, despite the virus still coursing through their veins.
The film talks about a family that weathers all sorts of disasters and keeps going in spite of it all. It is noted for its wonderful assortment of oddball characters. Jodie Foster later said that with this movie began the lowest point of her career, as she turned down worthy roles in Splash, The Terminator and The Breakfast Club.