Everybody's Fine is sort of like a square version of the more lauded recent Jack Nicholson vehicle About Schmidt, and its squareness is the main reason I prefer it. It's less cartoonish and condescending — there's no cynicism about family life or skepticism about how difficulty and warmth can co-exist. And while the film does have its sentimentalities, so do parent-child relationships, and they do not overwhelm.
Robert De Niro plays Frank Goode, an aging widower who is first seen preparing his home for some pending event: cleaning the yard, stocking up on groceries, even buying a grill. We soon learn that he's preparing for a visit from his four adult children in what will be the first time they've all been together since the death earlier in the year of his wife and their mother.
When, one by one, the kids cancel, Frank decides to ignore his doctor's advice and set out to see them individually — without notice — traveling mostly by bus and train because of an unnamed medical condition (and presumably because the filmmakers thought it would be more pictorial that way).
This trip takes Frank across the country: artist David mysteriously M.I.A. in New York, advertising exec Amy (Kate Beckinsale) comfortably ensconced with husband and son in Chicago, classical musician Robert (Sam Rockwell) getting ready for a tour in Denver, and dancer Rosie (Drew Barrymore) coming off a big show in Las Vegas.
In most films, this story would be about adults too busy with their own jobs and families to pay proper attention to their aging parents or to each other. The resolution would be about them relearning the value of these family connections.
This is the story arc that Everybody's Fine telegraphs, but it isn't quite where it goes. The kids have other reasons for dodging dad's invitation, and these reasons go beyond the explanation that initially emerges. Without giving away details, Frank's conception of his children's lives — their successes, their happiness — begins to conflict with an emerging reality.
Everybody's Fine is a remake of a 1990 Italian film starring Marcello Mastroianni. I haven't seen the original, so I can't say how the star of such flamboyant films as La Dolce Vita and 8½ settled into the "mundane" role of middle-aged, middle-class dad worrying about his kids, but here the former Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) and Jake La Motta (Raging Bull) does so with ease.
The drama in Everybody's Fine isn't overplayed, nor is it unusually compelling. The movie aims for solid, comfortable, serious, not spectacular, and it fulfills its earnest, modest ambitions well. It will appeal primarily to older filmgoers who can relate to Frank's situation (and, perhaps to a lesser extent, to a younger adult audience who can relate to the "kids"). This demographic isn't catered to much with high-profile films, and when they are, it's usually something cloying and cutesy like The Bucket List. Everybody's Fine courts this audience honestly.