An elderly man tries to reconnect with his grown children after his wife dies, to see how they are doing in life. Robert DeNiro plays the lead character of Frank Goode. Frank's wife died about one year ago. He is retired, lonely, with not much to do except take care of his garden. He is ill from breathing the PVC fumes in the factory he owned for many years that made the coatings for the telephone wires. He wants to see his four grown children again so he invites them to his house. He prepares to have a fantastic barbeque in the backyard, buys a new grill, steaks, and wine from the store. Then all his children call and cancel right before they are supposed to visit him. He decides to go visit them as a surprise. His doctor advises against traveling due to his illness. He ignores the advice. He does not like flying because it is too stressful so he takes a train to New York to visit his son David. On the train, he explains to a woman, that he made the coatings for all the telephone wires they see as they pass by, millions of miles of them.
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When he gets to David's apartment there is no one there. David is an artist. He sees one of his son's paintings hanging in the window of a nearby gallery. He waits for a while, and then leaves a note under the door. He takes the train to see his daughter Amy (played by Kate Beckinsale). She told him on the phone the reason she could not visit is that her son Jack (played by Lucian Maisel) was sick with the flu. When he arrives, he sees Jack is perfectly well, so he realizes that Amy has lied to him. Amy makes an excuse so Frank will leave the next day.
Frank takes the train again to go see his other son; Robert (played by Sam Rockwell) who he thinks is a conductor of a symphony, because of what his deceased wife said. He learns that Robert is only the percussionist in the orchestra. Robert tells him the orchestra is leaving the next day, which is not true, as the excuse why he cannot spend more time with his dad.
Frank wants to take a bus to Las Vegas but misses it, so he hitches a ride part way in a semi-truck driven by a middle-age woman who has recently lost her husband. They share a tender moment about their feelings. He takes the train the rest of the way to Vegas, then a cab to the bus station because his daughter Rosie (played by Drew Barrymore) was waiting for him there. She was not supposed to know he was coming but his son Robert called ahead to warn her.
She takes him in a fancy limo to a luxury apartment, pretending to be a successful Vegas performer, but it is fake and she is not wealthy at all, had a baby out of wedlock, and may be a lesbian but she's not sure. She does not tell him this, but he has dreams where he talks to his children as if they are still young and he confronts them about lying to him. Rosie finally comes clean partially with her father. She kindly explains to him that he was too demanding when they were children, his expectations were too high, and that is why the kids and the mother conspired together to keep bad news or disappointments from him. Frank never realized this about himself until now because his deceased wife always handled everything with the kids. He gets sad by what he learns so he returns by airplane.
On the plane, he has a heart attack. When he wakes in the hospital, he three children are there. He knows they all have lied to him, especially about David the artist who is missing. He saw David in a dream telling him he is in trouble. Even though they don't want to upset him more, right after having a heart attack, he forces them to tell him the truth. David has died from a drug overdose in Mexico. This is why they canceled the family event and could not spend time with him when he arrived by surprise, as they were dealing with the authorities to find out the truth and learn how David died. After Frank gets out of the hospital, he goes back to the gallery that has some paintings done by David and buys one that is of telephone poles with wires.
When he surprised each of his remaining children, he gave them all a note, inviting them to visit him for Christmas, with a photo of them when they were young, opening presents on Christmas Day, with their mother. The film ends with all of them celebrating Christmas together.
Best part of story, including ending:
It is sensitive and reminds me of earlier simpler times in American history which is nice.
Best scene in story:
I like the scene when he tells the woman, sitting next to him on the train, to guess what is his work (the PVC coatings for the telephone wires) that she has been looking at the whole trip out the windows. It is a nice moment.
Opinion about the main character:
I like his stubbornness and his refusal to follow doctor's order when he wants to see his kids, because he truly loves them.