A widowed father learns that his grown children have been deceiving him about the amount of happiness and success they’ve achieved in their lives in “Everybody’s Fine.” But while the message is honesty in this old-fashioned holiday dramedy, the tone is false and the story is frustratingly contrived.
An able cast buoys the film, which is a Hollywood-style remake by British filmmaker Kirk Jones of a same-named Italian drama (“Stanno Tutti Bene” by Giuseppe Tornatore).
But in the absence of originality, depth or adequate emotional credibility, what should have been genuine uplift is simply watchable goo.
Part road tale, part father-psyche drama and part Father’s Day card come to life, with bits of the superior “About Schmidt” and “Tokyo Story” included, the movie presents the awakening of Frank Goode (Robert De Niro), a retired New England widower.
When younger, Frank worked extra factory shifts so he could brighten his family’s horizons. Now, he’s faced with damaged lungs — the result of coating telephone wires for decades — and the realization that he hardly knows his now-grown children.
Wanting to connect, Frank takes to the road and visits tense ad-exec daughter Amy (Kate Beckinsale) in Chicago, underachieving musician Robert (Sam Rockwell) in Denver, and deceptively cheery dancer Rosie (Drew Barrymore), in Las Vegas.
All are too busy or too uneasy to spend much time with Dad and have lied to him about how they’re faring, not wanting to disappoint him.
They’re also hiding the truth about fourth sibling David. The emerging details make for the story’s dramatic buildup with a wallop clearly scheduled for the climax.
Despite the cross-country element, the movie feels like a small idea inflated onto a large canvas.
Jones, whose previous films include the quirky Irish-village comedy “Waking Ned Devine,” offers little wit or insight in regard to the subject of the contemporary American family or the postwar family provider, and can’t make his material resonate.
Instead, he delivers pat story threads and clichés. A medical emergency forces confessions. Frank talks to his dead wife at her grave site. In a fantasy sequence, Frank rebukes his offspring, who appear as young children, over how they’ve deceived him.
The mushy closure is equally embarrassing.
Such phoniness is a particular shame because when Jones simply lets his actors be their characters and click, there are some winning sparks.
De Niro, in everydad mode, plays it light, but he nicely carries us through (even if it’s hard to buy the doddering stuff). He also clicks nicely with Barrymore and Rockwell. Beckinsale is hampered by stock career-woman material.
Melissa Leo also makes an appearance — a far too brief one — as a good-natured trucker.
Starring Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell
Written and directed by Kirk Jones
Running time 1 hour 40 minutes