Recently widowed, retired wire factory worker Frank Goode (De Niro) realises all the contact he had with his four children was organised by his wife. When they all opt out of his planned family reunion, Frank takes it on himself to embark on a road trip to see his kids.
A kind of About Schmidt without the bite, Everybody’s Fine parlays another ’70s icon (Robert De Niro) into a widowed pensioner, packs his suitcase on wheels (which he has no idea how to use) and sends him on an odyssey of reconnection across America. Kirk Jones, still best known as the writer-director of Waking Ned, has taken Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 Italian original, kept the sentiment but replaced the bittersweet charm with something more literal and thus less affecting.
Given Waking Ned, you feel that Jones would mount a shaggy, amiable road trip peopled with quirky characters and gentle life lessons gleaned along the way. Instead, we get a predictable, dramatically inert journey barrelling toward an obvious conclusion and pat homilies. As Frank traverses America, he realises that his kids have been spinning him a line about their lives — happily married ad exec Kate Beckinsale is far from living in domestic bliss, big-shot composer Sam Rockwell is actually an orchestra percussionist — and the movie continues on this programmatic arc through the rest of his children, growing less gripping each time.
Jones’ storytelling tics do little to deflect from the obviousness. While Frank moves between destinations, we hear the voices of the siblings discussing the fate of a fourth sibling, hip artist David, that can only end one way. Even worse, De Niro, when he first sees his grown-up children, visualises them as their perfect child-like selves, an idea taken to its extreme when he sits the kid versions down for a Get Everything Out In The Open lunch.
En route there are some nice moments — old man Frank in a hipsters’ ad meeting, Frank’s conversation with trucker Melissa Leo — and Jones conjures up some strong images of a domesticated man out in the big, wide world, with a particular feel for the loneliness of hotel lobbies, bus terminals and roadside stops. Beckinsale, Rockwell and Drew Barrymore as Frank’s Vegas dancing daughter also acquit themselves well with little to work with. De Niro dials the histrionics down to nought, and suggests far more than is present in the writing. It’s also refreshing to see him play a regular, nice man, and any of the film’s emotional weight comes from him.
De Niro does quietly affecting work, but he cant elevate a pat Family Rediscovering Each Other drama into anything much above afternoon TV movie fodder.