Time has reduced many of the idiosyncratic American leading men of the ’70s into harmless, adorable senior citizens. Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfuss appear onscreen these days almost exclusively as cutesy old codgers. Now, a neutered Robert De Niro plays a widower who dodders around the country visiting his grown children in Everybody’s Fine, a schmaltzy Americanization of Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 Italian drama. De Niro’s demanding ways and impossibly high standards are supposed to have scarred each of his children profoundly during their formative years, but the harsh taskmaster of the past bears only the fuzziest resemblance to the nice old man of the present, who seems to demand nothing more than a bowl of soup and maybe the occasional nap.
In a sleepy lead performance, De Niro plays a widower who let his wife handle the lion’s share of parenting duties while he devoted himself to his job. In the aftermath of his wife’s death, however, he realizes just how little he knows his four children, so when they opt out of attending a family reunion, he decides to hit the road. If they won’t come to him, he’ll come to them.
Everybody’s Fine follows a dispiritingly predictable arc; De Niro visits his kids and learns that they’re each living a lie. His son Sam Rockwell isn’t the hotshot conductor De Niro imagines him to be, but rather a lowly percussionist. His high-powered businesswoman daughter Kate Beckinsale has a nuclear family that isn’t anywhere near as perfect as De Niro had been led to believe. This dynamic is dull the first time around, and it grows even less interesting with each mild variation. Viewers get no points for guessing whether the fate of De Niro’s most troubled child, a tortured New York artist busted for drugs in Mexico, will be revealed climactically in the film’s third act. Waking Ned Devine writer-director Kirk Jones does nothing to leaven the unashamed sentimentality that defines Tornatore’s cornball oeuvre: In the film’s most nauseating trope, De Niro initially sees each of his grown children as their adorable younger selves. Even more than the remake that it is, Everybody’s Fine plays like a homogenized, Hallmark Channel version of About Schmidt, with all the rough edges shaved off.