What Goes Up is about heroism. This poignant slice-of-life film revolves around Campbell Babbitt (Steve Coogan), a morally challenged and emotionally distraught New York reporter sent to cover the New Hampshire hometown hoopla surrounding Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian astronaut.
Upon arriving in the small New Hampshire town, Babbitt decides to call an old college friend, only to discover an apparent suicide. As another teacher (Molly Shannon) attempts to keep a looming scandal and celebration spoiler out of the newspaper, Babbitt gravitates toward his friends students in hopes of finding an unsung hero story about a teacher who made a permanent impact on kids that nobody understands.
Instead, he discovers the least likely teachers a group of dysfunctional high school students, misfits, and outcasts led by a narcissistic seductress (Hilary Duff), a repressed voyeur (Josh Peck), and a scheming pregnant teen (Olivia Thirlby). After sharing his own lapse of ethics in New York to gain their trust, Babbitt becomes obsessed with their subtleties of manipulation, need for attention, and desire to make heroes where no heroes exist.
In a gradual reversal of roles, the students teach Babbitt that the characteristics he is attempting to project on them might really be qualities that he and other adults possess. The lesson Babbitt learns is that he may need a hero more than students need him to replace their hero. And, in learning he is not so different than the students, he begins to relate to them in unexpected and potentially perilous ways, including an infatuation with the same student rumored to have had an affair with his dead friend.