The film is described as "semi-factual, semi-fictional". Variety's reviewer, Andrew Barker, noted that the film is "about a character who happens to share a name and a significant number of biographical similarities with Chet Baker, taking the legendary West Coast jazz musician's life as though it were merely a chord chart from which to launch an improvised set of new melodies".
Set largely in 1966, Baker (portrayed by Ethan Hawke) is hired to play himself in a movie about his earlier years when he first tried heroin. He romances actress Jane Azuka (a fictional character, a composite of several of Baker's women in real life, portrayed here by Carmen Ejogo) but on their first date, Baker is attacked by thugs and his front teeth smashed. As Baker recovers from his injury, his embouchure is ruined and he is unable to play trumpet any better than a novice. Meanwhile, he must answer to a probation officer, and ensure he is employed, while sticking to his regime of methadone treatment.
In Texas in the fall of 1980, college freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) – a hotshot pitcher in high school – moves into the house he will be sharing with other members of the college baseball team, and meets several of his new teammates, including his roommate Billy (Will Brittain) who has been nicknamed "Beuter" because of his redneck accent. He joins Finnegan (Glen Powell), Roper (Ryan Guzman), Dale (Quinton Johnson), and Plummer (Temple Baker) cruising the campus by car, looking to meet female students. Stopping to chat with two women moving into their apartment, upperclassmen Roper – an unapologetic hound-dog – and Finnegan – adopting a false feminist tone – both "strike out" with them.
At a team meeting at the house, the baseball coach introduces the new players, which include Jake, Plummer, Beuter, Brumley (Tanner Kalina) – all freshmen – and two transfer students: Jay (Juston Street), recruited for his professional-level pitching, and Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), a bearded philosopher-stoner. The coach cites two rules: no alcohol in the house, and no women...