Cloying sentimentality threatens to overwhelm this quiet character study about a widower trying to reconnect with his children. Despite the solid acting and wrenching drama, this over-slick film never connects emotionally.
Frank Goode (DeNiro) is rattling around his empty house after his wife dies.
His kids are all grown and out on their own, and none of them can be bothered to keep in touch. When they all cancel coming to a family dinner, Frank decides to pay them surprise visits, taking a road trip to see artist David (Lysy) in New York, ad exec Amy (Beckinsale) in Chicago, musician Robert (Rockwell) in Denver and dancer Rosie (Barrymore) in Las Vegas. But none of their lives are quite what he's been led to expect.
The film feels like a wispy variation on About Schmidt rather than what it really is: an irony-free remake of Guisseppe Tornatore's 1990 drama.
Writer-director Jones has stripped away all of the story's sharp edges, which leaves the strong cast struggling to generate any real electricity on screen even as cinematographer Henry Braham catches truly lovely images. Even the terrific DeNiro, who's completely believable, seems far too soft and put-upon for us to really get on his side.
One problem is that we are told things Frank doesn't know, mainly the explanation behind David's disappearance, which diffuses the film's sense of perspective. And letting us see behind the curtain, as it were, undermines the story's central theme: that something always lurks beneath the comment that "I'm fine" and that eventually acting like nothing has happened will come back to haunt you. In other words, this is a warm, nice film that has no bite at all.
It's also fairly enjoyable to watch, simply because it's so comfortable. It casually accepts (and preaches) the idea that the ungrateful younger generation is too busy and self-absorbed to care about anyone else. And while individual scenes feel honest (DeNiro has superb chemistry with Rockwell, Beckinsale and Barrymore), they're superficial, glossy depictions of the real rawness of life.
Which kind of makes us feel like the filmmakers are contradicting their own message.