Review by Ruth of FlixChatter
I saw this film as part of Mark and Tyson’s Robert De Niro blogathon and I was drawn to see this one as I like the premise. De Niro plays a widower Frank who realizes that his only connection to his family was through his wife. He then sets off on an impromptu road trip to reunite with each of his grown children.
The beginning of the film shows how Frank is anticipating his kids home for a family reunion. He mows the lawn, clean his house, buys steaks and expensive wine, etc. But as he sets up his barbeque in his yard, one by one his children calls and tells him they can’t make it. Frank is devastated, but promptly decides to pay each of them a surprise visit. Ignoring his doctor’s advice that he has to rest, Frank packs up his small carry-on and takes his first train ride to New York City to see his artist son David.
I quite enjoy this character-driven drama, anchored solely on De Niro’s understated but effective performance. On the train we learn that all his life Frank has been working hard to support his family in a telecommunication industry. In fact, he develops Pulmonary fibrosis on his lungs from years of coating all those telephone cables he could see outside his train windows. Right away I sympathize with Frank, even with excess baggage and all, deep down he’s a good guy. He realizes he could’ve been a better father, therein lies his vulnerability as he’s unsure how his kids would react to his visit.
Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale and Drew Barrymore portray three of Frank’s children. Beckinsale’s Amy is a successful ad exec in Chicago and Barrymore’s Rosie is a performer in Las Vegas. I feel that Beckinsale might’ve been miscast in this role, she just seems awkward here and not only because her character is hiding something. I was most impressed with Rockwell as Robert whom Frank thought is an orchestra conductor. The exchange between father and son feels genuine and heartbreaking-ly real. I could see other families watching this film identify with such familial pressure and unmet expectations. Interestingly, Bradley Cooper actually auditioned for Rockwell’s role but he ended up playing De Niro’s son in Silver Linings Playbook instead.
There’s a bit of mystery involving David’s whereabout that keeps building right up until the end. But it further supports the main theme that Frank finally learns the truth about his children and how he comes to accept them for who they are. It’s too bad this film barely made any money, it couldn’t even make up half of the $21 mil budget at the box office. I figure people aren’t drawn to De Niro’s softer side in a decidedly understated role in a non-flashy drama. It’s a shame as I think it’s one of De Niro’s best performance I’ve seen of late, perhaps I’d even rate it slightly above his performance in Silver Linings Playbook. He’s on screen most of the time and he paints a believable picture of a lonely father who wants desperately to make amends with his kids. The longer we spend time with Frank, the more we realize just how hard he’s been on his kids all his life. There are some humorous moments thrown in which De Niro delivers perfectly, it’s a brief but hilarious exchange with a NYC prostitute as he waits for his son to arrive. But it packs an emotional wallop as well, especially towards the end at an art gallery that hosts David’s artwork.
It’s not a perfect film by any means. At times it gets overly-sentimental and the acting is uneven, but I think UK-based director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine, Nanny McPhee) is able to make the most of De Niro’s fine casting and craft a heartwarming tale about the importance of family. I wish people had gone to see this than his latest crime comedy The Family which shamelessly capitalizes on his mobster persona. I know people love De Niro for his tough guy role but I think he’s just as compelling displaying his softer side. As the title says, everybody’s fine in this film in varying degrees, but De Niro’s emotional and nuanced performance is nothing short of marvelous.