When we meet Frank Goode (Robert DeNiro), he is preparing for the arrival of his grown children. He sets up a table and chairs in the backyard, a miniature pool for his grandkids, and even purchases a new grill that he assembles until late into the night. But his anticipation is short-lived when he receives a phone call from three of his four children - the ad executive Amy (Kate Beckinsale), the symphony conductor Robert (Sam Rockwell), and the dancer Rosie (Drew Barrymore) giving excuses as to why they cannot make it this weekend. The only one not to call is the artist David (Austin Lysy) but Amy claims to have already spoken to him on the phone and he can’t make it either.
We later are clued in to a phone conversation between Amy and Rosie in which they talk about David being in trouble. Details are still sketchy but Amy promises she will find out more on his situation.
Disappointed that his kids seem too busy for him, Frank comes to the conclusion that he’ll just have to come to them. Visiting with his doctor, Frank is told that a road trip is not what he needs right now with his lung condition, something that is the a result of working with the protective coating that goes over power lines. Being a widower himself, the doctor sympathizes with Frank and encourages him to spend more time in his garden or do other things around the house. Frank ignores his advice and decides to make the trip anyway but keeps his medication with him to help his condition.
Taking a train to New York, Frank attempts to visit David but he doesn’t seem to be at his apartment. While waiting outside his apartment, Frank wanders over to an art gallery and sees a painting that David made being displayed in the front window. When David fails to show up the next day, Frank decides to leave but, before he does, slides a letter addressed to David under his apartment door.
Next, Frank goes to visit Amy and his grandson Jack (Lucian Maisel). Amy is surprised to see him and tells Jack to go play some golf with him in the backyard while she makes some business phone calls. Outside, Frank tells Jack that his mom said he is at the top of his class but Jack is quick to dismiss this and admits he is struggling in school. Things are a little uncomfortable at dinner when Jack and his father Jeff (Damian Young) don’t seem to be getting along and Amy continues to give excuses about being so busy that Frank will have to leave tomorrow.
After taking a family picture of the three the next morning, Frank and Amy head to the train station and Frank confronts her about hiding things from him, like Jack and his grades. Amy explains that they tell him the good news and spare him the bad news, like their mother used to do. She was always the one that the kids would talk to on the phone and go to for help. Frank asks to be told about everything, good or bad, from now on and Amy agrees to do so.
Before they go to the train station, Amy takes him to her office at the advertising agency. She lets him sit in her chair and even has him listen to a couple of her employees pitch him a commercial. He seems very proud of her. At the train station, Amy and Robert are sitting at a table talking when Tom (James Frain), apparently an acquaintance of Amy, shows up unexpectedly and is introduced to Frank. Before boarding his train, Frank gives Amy a letter addressed to her and tells her that he hopes to have all the kids under one roof for Christmas this winter.
At this point, we are clued in to another phone call, this time between Amy and Robert. Amy explains that David has been arrested in Mexico and that she is flying down with a lawyer. They agree not to tell Frank before they know exactly what happened and Amy encourages Robert to make up an excuse so that Frank won’t stay with him for long and get suspicious.
Showing up at the orchestra where Robert conducts, Frank is perplexed to see Robert playing the drum instead of conducting. After practice, Robert explains to his father that he was never a conductor and is happy with being a percussionist. But Frank insists that everyone said Robert had the talent to be a conductor, to which Robert says “people are nice.” Robert explains that he likes his job and his life and knows that Frank is disappointed but Frank is quick to dismiss that. Frank asks if he has heard from David in a while but Robert says he has no idea why David wasn’t at his apartment.
Going outside, Frank is unhappy to see that Robert smokes and, after a humorous exchange, Robert decides to quit, here and now. Robert explains to Frank that he came at a bad time and that the orchestra is leaving tomorrow for another performance. Frank understands and leaves but not before leaving a letter addressed to Robert on top of his drums in the back of orchestra.
We hear another phone conversation, this time between Robert and Rosie. Robert warns her not tell Frank anything about David and she agrees but she insists that she be able to meet Frank at the train station, even though his visit is meant to be a surprised. Robert disagrees but she ignores him.
But, due to a confusion caused by the time zone change, Frank misses his train. He comes across a homeless man and tries to give him some money but the bum becomes aggressive with him and ends up stomping on his prescription pills. Frank collects as much of the crushed pills as he can and catches a bus to Las Vegas. Once there, he finds a limousine waiting for him and Rosie excited to see him.
Taking him back to her apartment, Rosie shows off her expensive living area to her father and Frank is very impressed. Right before dinner, Rosie is surprised when her friend Jilly (Katherine Moenning) shows up asking if Rosie can babysit her infant child while she picks up her husband from the airport. Rosie agrees and Frank enjoys spending time with the baby. Rosie gets a call later and explains to her father that Jilly won’t be able to make it back until tomorrow, meaning they’ll have to keep the baby overnight. Later, Frank overhears a message on her answering machine implying that she is merely borrowing the apartment for the sake of appearances. Uncomfortable, Frank decides its time for him to leave and Rosie arranges a flight home for him the next morning.
At the airport, Rosie talks about how she misses talking to her mother on the phone and Frank reminds her to keep calling even though it’ll be him on the other end now. Before he leaves, Frank gives Rosie a letter addressed to her and reiterates his desire to have all the kids under one roof for Christmas.
In another telephone conversation, Amy explains to both Robert and Rosie that she is at a hospital in Mexico but the doctors and nurses are being uncooperative. She explains that David was arrested for something drug-related and that he started getting sick soon after being put in police custody.
On his flight home, without his medication, Frank begins to become uncomfortable and flees to the lavatory, where he ends up suffering a heart attack. Suddenly, he finds himself in a dream where he and his adolescent children are all sitting in the backyard eating at the table. He demands that they all start telling him the truth. He asks Amy why Jeff was wearing the same shirt the morning after and why she introduced him to Tom. Turns out, Jeff was having an affair, the two are separated, and she wanted Frank to meet her new boyfriend Tom. Frank turns to Rosie and admits to knowing that the baby is hers and that she was lying about the apartment. Robert interjects that Rosie is even confused about her own sexuality and that Jilly is her girlfriend. Frank asks Robert why he lied about not being able to spend time with him. Robert explains that it’s because Frank expected so much from them as children that they all know he’ll just be disappointed by how their lives have turned out. So they lie to him to keep him happy. Frank asks David what he is hiding but David mocks him and refuses to talk. Frank becomes angry and explains that he pushed him harder than the others because he thought he was capable of so much.
Back in reality, Frank is hospitalized and, when he wakes up, is surrounded by his three children, who tell him that he suffered a heart attack. He asks where David is and the kids, all begin to tear up, explain that David is dead. He died of a drug overdose in Mexico. He took the death of their mother harder than the rest and spiraled out of control. Frank refuses to believe this but eventually realizes the truth and breaks down into tears along with his children.
After recovering from his heart attack, Frank goes back to New York to purchase the painting from the art gallery but finds that it has already been sold. But the woman working there shows him another painting David left behind and Frank is surprised to see that it depicts power lines the very thing he spent years working on when David was a child. He later also visits the grave of his wife and explains to her that he is doing his best to stay in touch with the kids and keep them together.
The last scene is of all the kids having Christmas together under one roof with Frank.
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