DVD Release Date:  February 23, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  December 4, 2009
Rating:  PG-13 (for thematic elements and brief strong language)
Genre:  Drama/Comedy
Run Time: 100 min.
Director:  Kirk Jones
Actors:  Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Melissa Leo, Lucian Maisel, Damian Young, Katherine Moennig, James Murtaugh, Austin Lysy

There's nothing like the holidays to remind everyone about what's really important in life. But sometimes the delivery of what's ultimately a valuable message about the importance of family simply gets lost in translation, which is exactly what happens in the ho-hum dramedy Everybody's Fine

Better suited for a Hallmark Channel holiday TV special than the big screen, despite an engaging, nuanced performance from Robert De Niro as Frank Goode, the dad who's trying to make amends for his previous absence in his kids' lives, Everybody's Fine inevitably suffers from a lack of real emotional gravitas. 

Aside from the film's pervasively gloomy aesthetic quality, the old culprit here is a severe lack of character development and a few plot details that simply aren't believable, not to mention pacing that's probably even slower than molasses.

While the filmmakers do a decent job of setting up the story by showing (not telling in some annoying voiceover) just how lonely Frank's life is since his wife's passing eight months ago (the big highlight of his day is tending to his garden and shopping for the good steak and wine for his kids' upcoming visit), the remaining running time isn't fleshed out quite so well. 

In rather predictable fashion, each of Frank's four kids abruptly call and cancel at the last minute, making up excuses that aren't even remotely plausible, leaving poor ol' dad home alone during the holidays. Given that David (Austin Lysy), the youngest of the brood, is in some sort of trouble in Mexico, his siblings would rather lie than tell their dad the actual truth, apparently something of a family motto that inspired the movie's Dr. Phil-esque title.

But Frank isn't about to let a slew of scheduling inconveniences prevent him from making things right with his kids, so on a whim that's not exactly approved by his doctor (Frank has a lung condition from too many years of blue collar work), he's decided to surprise them "by coming to them" instead.

And since Frank refuses to fly, he approaches his road trip the old-school way—by taking trains and Greyhound buses, a welcome opportunity to enjoy a bit more of the scenery. Or in Frank's case, miles and miles of the very telephone wires he put the protective coating on for more than 30 years, a factoid that doesn't exactly impress any of his fellow passengers.

After hours and hours and the frequent stops to McDonald's, a staple of traveling by Greyhound, Frank's first adventure begins in the Big Apple, where David lives and works as an artist. Considering that aforementioned detail about David being in trouble, the one that his brother and sisters didn't bother telling Frank about, well, he's not home, naturally. But rather than giving David a call when he doesn't answer the door  (apparently, Frank isn't a believer in cell phones and automatically assumes his kids will definitely be home when he shows up), he decides to sleep on the apartment building's front steps (even though it's clearly a shady neighborhood).

Batting .000 on his trip so far, he then makes his way to Chicago to see Amy (Kate Beckinsale, who is curiously devoid of any of her usual sparkle), a successful advertising executive who's never without her Blackberry. Also the mother of a son who's not doing so well in school, despite her previous claims of him being "at the top of his class," her marriage is on the rocks, too. In fact, to assure her dad that everything's peachy, she has her ex make a cameo at dinner, a painfully awkward encounter that could've been avoided with, well, a little honesty, perhaps?

This whole lack of honesty thread continues with Frank's subsequent visits to Denver and Las Vegas, where Robert (Sam Rockwell) plays percussion in the local symphony (nope, he's not a conductor like he told his dad he was) and his daughter Rosie (Drew Barrymore) is a waitress and the mother of Frank's grandson (who she pretends is her girlfriend's, natch) rather than the professional Vegas dancer her dad believes her to be.

While a good point could've been made about feeling safe enough with family to always tell the truth, warts and all, it simply doesn't work here, considering how truncated all the interactions are with Frank and his kids, not to mention how sitcom-y the story feels. Even the movie's "big" twists, not to mention the requisite feel-good ending, just don't have much impact. 

Of course you know you're probably supposed to cry as the story's darker realities unfold, but your tear ducts simply won't comply. And for once, it's not even because you're too cynical or your heart is three sizes too small like the Grinch's was before his transformation. It's only because there's no way of getting attached to this particular family when the scriptwriters forgot to make them anything resembling one.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Social drinking, plus talk about David's drug overdose. Frank also has to rely on prescription drugs for his lung condition.
  • Smoking:  Frank warns Robert about smoking's harmful effects. Before lighting up, Robert announces that he's quit, just like that.
  • Language/Profanity:  There's one use of the "f" word, plus a handful of other profanities and instances where the Lord's name is taken in vain.
  • Sex/Nudity:  A brief discussion on Rosie's inability to decide whether she likes boys or girls (she has a girlfriend at the moment). 
  • Violence:  No violence, but there are plenty of family verbal sparring, particularly by Sara who is fiercely protective of Kate.
  • Faith/Family Values:  No discussion of God or Jesus, although Frank hopes that his wife and son David will get to see each other at Christmas in heaven. But the importance of family, the need to forgive past wrongs and being honest with each other, is emphasized in the script.

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.