It is the summer of 1992. Troy Morgan is working with his friend Jason at the movie theater in his small, rural hometown before moving away to attend art school in San Francisco. He dreams of leaving the dreary cloud of his past behind and discovering his new self in the artworld.
Troy arrives at his senile grandmother's house in San Francisco, where he stays while getting situated at college. He struggles with city life, the art world, and finding jobs. He begins to make friends and eventually moves into an apartment with 3 other roommates. But now with the privacy of his own room, he escapes into creating erotic fantasies in his sketchbook, a growing addiction that is becoming a larger problem for him.
Around this time, Troy meets Nick, an obnoxiously foul mouthed gay film student who is charmed by Troy’s naivete and begins to cast him as a hopeless, lost street hustler in his short films. After the floor of Troy’s apartment caves in from structural neglect and everyone is evicted, Nick invites Troy to crash at his place, and the two form a deep, brotherly friendship. However, Nick’s intentions become suspect as a jealous, and controlling side of him begins to surface.
Their friendship hits a crisis, when Troy falls madly in love with Jill, a painting student who evokes a ghostly, old world charm. Troy moves into Jill’s apartment with Jill and her brother, Gabe, an Irish fiddle player, who convinces Troy to play accordion with him around the Irish pub scene in San Francisco. Troy, desperate to impress Jill, dives headfirst into the beer-soaked, cocaine-fueled world of Irish session playing.
The relationship ends in catastrophe when Jill has an affair with one of the visiting artists at school and Troy spends the next year moving from one bad apartment to another. Nick is amused by Troy’s life and under the pretense of offering help, casts him as the lead in his new feature film, all the while exploiting his turmoil for much of the subject matter.
The downward spiral of apartment hopping ends when Troy finds himself living with a reclusive and slightly deformed poet in the basement of a Chinatown laundromat. Now experimenting with harder drugs, he loses himself entirely to his sketchbook fantasies. One day while his roommate is out, Troy peeks into his journal and finds it’s filled with fantasies about burning down San Francisco. Horrified, he begins sleeping in the painting studios at school.
While on campus after dark, Troy finds a small commune of students who are secretly living above the metal shop. They stay up late nights, working on an elaborate miniature city. Spike, the leader of this group, introduces Troy to the philosophical idea of improving one's life through miniature worldbuilding. Spike shares with Troy his own history of drug and alcohol addiction, and invites Troy to participate in “Daylight,” a film project they are creating. Troy finds talents he never knew he had and writes a beautiful score for the film on the accordion.
After graduation, Troy visits Jason back in his hometown and confides with him about his addiction. They go to the old movie theater together and screen Daylight.