Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) age 62, sort of stumbles through his life emotionless. He misses his wife who died and as an attempt to capture some of the void he feels, he tries to learn to play the piano like she used to. But he isn't very good at it and his lack of enthusiasm with life is beginning to show. He limits the classes he's teaching to one and tries to convince himself it's due to his writing of his 4th book. When he's asked by a co-worker to travel to Manhattan for a conference, he highly objects as he doesn't want to upset his casual quiet structured environment he's grown accustom to. But he can't talk his way out of this one and heads off to his seldom used apartment in New York.
Upon entering his home in Manhattan, Walter opens the door to find an immigrant couple has been living there for the past few months. His first reaction is to throw the trespassers out and as he watches them struggle with their things, he has a change of heart and decides to let the couple stay a few days while they seek other shelter.
Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira) were told they would have access to this home as part of a real estate scam and with no where else to turn, little money to their names, and illegally in the U.S. their options are few. When Walter allows them to stay at his home until they can get settled somewhere else, they at least feel their situation has some hope. Tarek sings and plays the African drum in a small band and Zainab peddles her hand designed jewelry at the local swap meet.
Walter is extremely curious about the drum he sees Tarek playing and though hesitant, he accepts the offer to learn how to play. The more he practices, the more alive he becomes until he finds himself risking public humiliation as he joins in with local street musicians performing. Walter has never felt to alive and the three find new hope coming alive within all of them. Things couldn't be better until one day when Walter and Tarek are taking their drums on the subway. Tarek is arrested while entering through the turn style that his drum became caught on and he had to climb over. Even with Walter defending Tarek's ticket price purchased, the police take Tarek away where now he could risk deportation. Walter takes on the task of fighting for the Tarek's rights, while Zainab fears she won't see her love again.
When Tarek's mother Mouna (Hiam Abbass) has not heard from her son in days, she arrives at Walter's apartment to insure Tarek is okay. Mouna awakens a new romance with Walter that he'd thought was dead for ever. Sometimes life "is what it is" and the unlikely friends find themselves at the mercy of political intervention.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Writer: Tom McCarthy
Producers: Michael London, Mary Jane Skalski