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Dull, Unengaging Family Drama
by Mel Valentin on Dec 04, 2009
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.
The television ads for Everybody’s Fine, Kirk Jones’ (Nancy McPhee, Waking Ned Devine) loose remake of Giuseppe Tornatore’s (Cinema Paradiso) 1990 family drama, Stanno Tutti Bene, extol Robert De Niro as one of the greatest actors of his generation giving the late-career best performance.
Few would argue De Niro deserves to be included in any discussion of best actors of his generation. But unless they’re grading on a steep curve that takes De Niro’s unimpressive and unchallenging roles of the last 15 years into account, few could argue that his performance in Everybody’s Fine deserves to be called a late career-best.
Everybody’s Fine centers on Frank Goode (De Niro), a retired widower. He’s a blue-collar type who has spent his adult life working hard to achieve the American Dream, if not for himself, then for his children, Amy (Kate Beckinsale), an advertising executive who owns her own company; Robert (Sam Rockwell), a composer, conductor, and musician; Rosie (Drew Barrymore), a dancer; and the missing-in-action David (Austin Lysy), an artist.
While there’s no sign that Frank possessed any artistic skill or affinity for the arts (that might have come from his late wife), he takes enormous pride in their accomplishments, or at least his perception of their accomplishments. He’s the quintessential live-through-your-children parent.
In the middle of preparing for a family reunion, Frank’s children cancel on him. Disappointed and against his doctor’s orders (he suffers from work-related lung problems), Frank decides to pack his overnight luggage and pay surprise visits to his children. At each stop, Frank discovers an unpleasant or disconcerting fact about his children.
Everybody’s Fine is loosely connected by Frank’s desire to see and reconnect with his children, one of Everybody’s Fine not-so-grand themes, and the comforting lies children tell their parents and parents tell their children in the interest of minimizing emotional pain that often delay the inevitable.
In Jones’ hands — he adapted and directed) — Everybody’s Fine is often painfully predictable, clumsily subtext-free (every theme is spelled out, multiple times), and ultimately, minimally insightful (and that’s being charitable).
It’s easy, however, to see why De Niro took the lead role in the film. He’s in every scene, playing a range of emotions as the lead character, the true-to-his-surname Frank Goode, and he gets to work with several well-recognized, talented actors: Barrymore, Beckinsale, and Rockwell. They all hit their emotional cues perfectly (or near perfectly), elevating Everybody’s Fine above Jones’ Hallmark-style handling of mawkish, maudlin material, but performances, no matter how deep the actors go, can only take a film so far. In the case of Everybody’s Fine, it's not far at all.
Everybody’s Fine is short a compelling narrative hook and a satisfying emotional journey for Frank and his children that doesn’t depend on a series of unsurprising revelations about the characters, their successes, failures, and relationships.
by Mel Valentin on Dec 04, 2009