EVERYBODY’S FINE (2009)
Starring Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Lucian Maisel, Melissa Leo, James Frain, Katherine Moennig, Brendan Sexton III, Chandler Frantz, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Mackenzie Milone and Lily Mo Sheen.
Screenplay by Kirk Jones.
Directed by Kirk Jones.
Distributed by Mirimax Pictures. 100 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Everybody’s Fine is based on a 1990 Italian film called Stanno tutti bene with Marcello Mastroianni. I’ve never seen it, so I can’t compare the Americanization with the original subtitled version – though on a guess I would imagine the original worked better than this slightly stilted family drama.
The basic storyline is also seriously reminiscent of a great, mostly forgotten mid-70s comedy/drama called Harry and Tonto – the movie that resurrected Art Carney’s career in his later years. To give you an idea of how good Carney was in the role, he won the 1974 Best Actor Oscar for the role – beating out Jack Nicholson for Chinatown, Al Pacino for Godfather Part II, Albert Finney for Murder on the Orient Express and Dustin Hoffman for Lenny.
Harry and Tonto was about an aging widower who was evicted from his long-time home and decided to take a road trip across America with his cat to see his grown children – only to realize that their lives had turned out to be very different than he had imagined.
Everybody’s Fine has no cat and no eviction – and it is honestly not nearly as good a movie – but the plot is essentially the same, at least before this new film totally falls apart with a really awkward Hollywood ending. (Harry and Tonto, on the other hand, closed out with a certain subtle grace.)
The ending, unfortunately, gets both too metaphysical and too maudlin at the same time. This complete unraveling takes a slightly clumsy but essentially good-hearted movie and undoes most of the good feelings that it was able to build up.
Not that the film was overly good before the ending. The ending was just the flatline on an ailing patient.
Strangely, one of the biggest problems with the new movie is the lazy performance by one of the greatest actors of our time. Is it my imagination, but is Robert De Niro playing almost every role he does these days on the same lightweight Meet the Fockers level? Let’s just say that unlike Carney, no one will ever be thinking that De Niro should bring home a gold statuette for this work.
De Niro plays Frank Goode, a quiet-but-friendly retiree and widower who is expecting his four kids to visit for the first time since his wife’s funeral – only to have them all cancel on him.
Therefore, against his doctor’s orders, Goode decides to travel across country to surprise all of them.
The foolishness of this idea is shown on the first leg of the trip – he shows up at the apartment of his artist son in New York City, only to find the guy isn’t even home. So he sits on his doorstep for several hours, eventually getting into the building and sticking an envelope under his door.
Ummm, doesn’t dad have a cell phone? We know he’s an old-school guy (his grandson has to explain to him that his new suitcase has a handle and wheels) but even out-of-it people have cell phones. Even if he didn’t, wouldn’t it have made sense to call ahead from home or on a pay phone?
Eventually it turns out that the son’s absence is part of the reason that the other three didn’t make it – a fact that they all are keeping from dad for some obscure reason – and as he visits his other children in Chicago, Denver and Las Vegas he still just shows up without calling.
They all have told him a certain amount of lies about their lives – lies about their personal lives, their business lives, their living arrangements and more. Mostly when dad just arrives, the kids all make small talk, continue to tell rather obvious untruths that he does not call them on, and make excuses for dad not to stay long. Again, shouldn’t he have called first? They all avoid discussing the subject of the other child. We as the audience know a little more, because we hear the children making hurried calls periodically about the missing brother and keeping it from dad.
However, we never understand for a second why they are all keeping it from dad. It is an important matter in his life and who knows, he may even be able to help. He obviously loves the kids – though he may have been a little too stern in raising them. In fact, even now, when visiting his kids he literally keeps seeing them as they looked as small children.
In the meantime, Frank travels buses, trains and planes seeing the US – having shallow and slightly awkward small talk with people he meets. None of it is overly significant, nor is it overly entertaining to watch, but it informs the growth of his character, I suppose.
Too bad the movie, in attempting to go from a low-key comedy/drama to something more significant, instead eventually turns simply overwrought and melodramatic.
The poster sort of misrepresents the movie, making it look like it is much lighter than it ends up being. It shows De Niro taking a picture of himself and his smiling brood on a digital camera (though in the movie, one of the other characters teases him about the fact that De Niro’s character has a film camera, not a digital). I’m sure the filmmakers were trying to make a statement about the real turmoil behind the smiles of a happy family, still it seems like a bit of a cheat.
Turns out in the Goode family, everybody is fine and at the same time no one is. Which in itself is trenchantly realistic, sadly the rest of the movie rarely is.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 13, 2010.