Everybody’s Fine opens Friday throughout the Triangle

Everybody’s Fine succeeds in evoking a spirit of family reconciliation and yuletide cheer. However, the film’s mawkishness overrides any warm feelings it could elicit.

Robert De Niro plays Frank, a retiree trying to adjust to a life of menial solitude, unmoored from the world by his wife’s death eight months earlier. Disconnected from his grown children geographically and emotionally, Frank embarks on a road trip to visit and, hopefully, reconnect with his family. Casual observers may note similarities to Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt, including De Niro’s and Jack Nicholson’s splendidly restrained performances. Officially, Everybody’s Fine is a remake of Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 Italian drama, starring Marcello Mastroianni, with the Italian equivalent of the reassuring English title, Stanno tutti bene,

This update from director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine) amps up the maudlin factor to nearly oppressive levels, piling angst about aging atop mortality and family dysfunction. Indeed, only the A-list cast keeps this from dissolving into holiday-themed Hallmark Hall of Fame treacle.

Frank is the everyman who shops for expensive wine at a supermarket and haggles over the price of goods ranging from gas grills to Christmas trees. Clad and accessorized in nondescript browns, he also epitomizes a certain manespecially older and working-classwho has tender feelings toward his loved ones but is unwilling or unsure how to express his emotions. He greets his daughters with awkward hugs and his son with a handshake.

As the film opens, Frank is eagerly preparing for the first visit since his wife’s funeral. He has invited all four of his children: David the painter; Robert the musician (Sam Rockwell); Amy (Kate Beckinsale), a hard-charging Chicago ad executive; and Rosie (Drew Barrymore), a Las Vegas dancer. Unfortunately for this lonesome widower, his children all cancel at the last minute, which prompts Frank’s cross-country odyssey.

Until the end, the script is furtive about the actual reason the children choose to stay away. But it strongly implies throughout that they were far more connected to their late mother than their supportive but demanding father. In one affecting scene, Frank visits Robert during orchestra practice and, even in the midst of their reunion, is unable to stifle his disappointment that Robert has chosen to play percussion instead of pursuing a career as a conductor.

Each child carries skeletons and imperfections he or she is reluctant to share. But instead of allowing the children to be honest with their father, Jones uses a bizarre, clumsy dream sequence to help Frank put the pieces together.

The actors carry out their roles well, and De Niro’s interaction with each co-star is pitch-perfect. However, there is a disconnect between the children’s dismissive, sometimes callous treatment of their father and the onscreen Frank. We are merely informed about Frank’s domineering parenting without being provided any glimpse into that part of his persona (unlike, for instance, the treatment of the Gene Hackman character in The Royal Tenenbaums). The result is an incomplete narrative that engenders a festering dislike for Frank’s children, who probably don’t really deserve our malice.

This lack of context is probably intentional, since it tidily clears emotional debris for a tear-jerking plot turn and a Norman Rockwell-esque denouement. “Everybody’s fine” is supposed to be an ironic affirmation. Trouble is, by the time Christmas arrives, along with the closing credits, it’s hard to detect the irony.