Everybody's Fine belongs to the "Old Man Road Trip" movie tradition, in which a retiree, played by an aging A-list actor, embarks on a transformative journey. This season, it's Robert De Niro in Everybody's Fine, directed by Kirk Jones.
The melancholy movie is based on Giuseppe Tornatore's Stanno tutti bene, which starred Marcello Mastroianni as a retired Sicilian bureaucrat. Just as dinner at one of Italy's finest restaurants can't be replicated by eating at the Olive Garden, the bittersweet enchantment of an Italian film suffers when filtered through the conventions of a Hollywood holiday movie.
De Niro plays Frank, a widower retired after 30 years manufacturing coatings for telephone wires. While Frank prepares for a reunion with his grown children, they each call to say they can't make it. Impulsively, Frank boards a train to pay surprise visits to his children scattered across the country. Onboard, he shows off a photo of his successful brood: David, the artist; Amy (Kate Beckinsale), the ad executive; Robert (Sam Rockwell), the orchestra conductor; and Rosie (Drew Barrymore), the Vegas dancer.
On his first stop, New York, Frank finds David missing from his rundown apartment. He heads to Chicago, where Amy conceals the truth about her marriage. In the Northwest, Frank discovers Robert isn't a conductor but a percussionist (why that's bad is unclear). Rosie too is keeping secrets.
There's pathos in the kids lying to the old man, revealed to him in a dream sequence in which they appear as the children they once were, a magical-realist device better suited to the movie's Italian progenitor. There are poignant scenes, as when a lost David "appears" at his ailing father's bedside. But mostly the movie clicks along on a predictable track, punctuated by sappy pop songs. Secrets are revealed and relationships healed, all in time to trim the tree.
Mastroianni was touching as the bewildered pensioner, telling his dead wife the children are "all fine." De Niro goes through the same motions to less stirring effect. Maybe it's because he's played so many tough guys. Or maybe because his goofy expressions cue laughter, not tears. Either way, he seems miscast in this sentimental role.