For those weary of the cuddly Robert De Niro, the gentle uplift of his latest film, “Everybody’s Fine,” probably isn’t going to be tonic for the soul.
But midway through the movie, there is a flash of the old, unpredictable and delightfully unmanageable De Niro when his character, feeling unappreciated by his grown children, goes off on a subway panhandler for a perceived breach of etiquette.
If writer-director Kirk Jones (“Waking Ned Devine”) had allowed his lead actor a bit more room to roam into the dark corners of his character, the movie’s fast path toward late-life insight would have felt more earned.
Still, De Niro’s work possesses such a quiet power that Jones’ well-crafted film disappoints only in the sense that it could have delivered more.
We first see De Niro’s character, retiree Frank Goode, preparing for the homecoming of his four adult children. Then the phone starts ringing. Each “kid” begs off the reunion, using last-minute excuses that sound like just that – excuses.
So Frank, recently widowed and on heart medication, decides to ignore his doctor’s advice and head out on a cross-country road trip to visit his offspring.
He travels first to New York where there’s no sign of his troubled artist son, David (Austin Lysy). He surprises career-minded Amy (Kate Beckinsale) in Chicago, slacker musician Robert (Sam Rockwell) in Colorado and free-spirit Rosie (Drew Barrymore) in Vegas.
Frank’s presence at each stop isn’t exactly welcomed, and we gradually come to understand why. He spent his entire adult life working double shifts so his children could succeed – and if they didn’t, they would hear about it from him.
Rockwell, Barrymore and Beckinsale all shine in their brief screen time, with De Niro’s scenes with Rockwell packing the kind of tension the movie could have used to better advantage.
The strength of “Everybody’s Fine” is watching De Niro slowly transform Frank into a father willing to listen and accept his children for who they are, and not who he wanted them to be.
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