Starring: Robert De Niro, Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore
Directed by: Kirk Jones (“Nanny McPhee”)
Written by: Kirk Jones (“Nanny McPhee”)

If you don’t pick up the phone and call your mother and father and tell them how much you love them immediately after watching “Everybody’s Fine,” you just might be like that rotten ol’ Grinch with a heart three sizes too small. While there are moments in the Christmas dramedy that might feel familiar, the film’s sweet-natured doctrine – along with Robert De Niro’s reserved performance – is cozier than a pair of warm cotton socks.

In “Everybody’s Fine,” De Niro plays Frank Goode, a retired widower, who we learn has supported his family his entire life working in a factory where his job was to coat telephone wire to protect it from the harsh elements. In essence, Frank is one of the small cogs that make telephone communication possible across the country.

But while Frank has spent his life connecting families with each other, he can’t seem to break through to his own grown kids. All four of them – who live in different cities – have called at the last minute to cancel their trip to see him for Christmas. Instead of waiting around for the next holiday visit, Frank decides – against his doctor’s orders – to drop in an surprise each of them. Frank wants to know that everyone is fine. It’s going to take more than a phone call to convince him. He wants to see it for himself.

But as he make his one-man adventure, much like Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt” but without the dark humor, Frank realizes there is something wrong although he can’t quite put his finger on what it is. His first visit to his son David in New York City comes up empty when he never finds him at his apartment. The rough start doesn’t let up as Frank continues his journey to visit his two daughters – Amy (Kate Beckinsale) in Chicago and Rosie (Drew Barrymore) in Las Vegas – and his other son Robert (Sam Rockwell) in Denver.

Each city brings with it its own letdowns. Amy’s home life isn’t perfect, Rosie’s dream to be a dancer has fallen short, and David isn’t the conductor of an orchestra like his father thought he was. They’re all revelations that had been kept from Frank since it was always his late wife his kids opened up to. Frank wonders what else his own children haven’t told him. “I tell you the good news and spare you the bad,” Amy tells her father during one scene.

Adapted from the 1990 Italian film “Stanno tutti bene,” which stars three-time Oscar nominee Marcello Mastroianni, “Everybody’s Fine” is a subtle drama that’s glossed over a bit too much by director Kirk Jones (“Nanny McPhee”) but manages to pluck enough heartstrings without becoming cloying.

There’s plenty of tonal indecision by Jones especially on a metaphorical level, but there is still a nice message that gets through all the excess baggage the script carries: No matter how hard you support and love your children, sometimes things don’t work out quite the way you anticipated. The central theme to “Everybody’s Fine” is a great one for the holiday season when families should always reevaluate their priorities for the New Year.

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