DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Everybody is Fine

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Everybody is Fine

Everybody is Fine (2009) dir, Kirk Jones
Starring: Robert De Niro, Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale


By Alan Bacchus

2009 saw the death of Miramax, and by the end of the year, the once powerful champion and promoter of independent films was gasping for air. An unfortunate casualty of their demise is this truly endearing little film, ‘Everybody is Fine’, based upon the Guiseppe Tornatore’s 1990 Italian film, ‘Stanno tutti bene’.

Robert De Niro, once again finds himself in the middle age conservative everyman role of those awful Fockers movies. As Frank, he’s a recent widower, living in a depressed vacuum of a life desperately trying to maintain a connection to his four children, all of whom have moved far away and assumed busy productive lives. He’s introduced buying ‘expensive wine’ at the grocery store to impress his ‘kids’ - though his children are all in the 30’s this is how he still refers to them. But when they all cancel on him at the last moment, his world is shattered, causing him to go on a roadtrip to visit each one of them by surprise.

His inability to see his kids as grown-up adults with all the flaws, anxieties and personal problems as regular adults clouds his point of view. Through all these years, Frank has kept an idealized vision of his children’s lives as successful and stabile adults. With each visit Frank detects that his children’s stories may not entirely all be true.

Amy (Kate Beckinsale) for instance, would appear to be a successful ad exec with a stabile family, until a deep rift in their domestic household reveals something otherwise. When Frank visits Robert (Sam Rockwell), he finds out he’s not the conductor of the symphony, but a lowly percussionist who just ‘beats a drum’ – a compromise in life and career which Robert has accepted personally but has been ashamed to reveal to his father. Same with Rosie (Drew Barrymore), who claims to be a dancer in a high profile Las Vegas show but appears to be hiding a number of personal details for fear of disappointing her father. Lastly, David, the artist, is nowhere to be found, a more extreme failure and a secret which all three kids hide from Frank.

Robert De Niro, who seems to have been in a decade long slump of forgettable and embarrassing comic roles which play against his former acting glory, finally has a role to dig his teeth into. It’s not Travis Bickle or Jake La Motta, but there’s a wealth of emotional baggage in Frank for De Niro showcase the great subtitles of his unflashy, but no less involving roles such as ‘Mad Dog and Glory’. Under De Niro’s sad eyes and lumbering gate, Frank comes off as both lonely and depressed but with a spirited fire inside waiting to come out. He relishes his ability to ‘just leave’ on a whim without anything tying him down. Saying that, at each stop along the way he’s also a glaringly obvious fish out of water, someone who looks like he’s never left home in his life.

This is the dichotomy which permeates every scene. Frank seems like such a warm and supporting father, yet the actions and deceptions of his kids suggest the opposite. Why would each one of them need to portray an idealized life, and lie to their father? This relationship of father to child is dramatized with refreshingly honest reality. Writer/Director Kirk Jones, in most cases, steers the film away from big moments of conflict and melodrama, instead finding conflict where most families hide it, repressed in their often subconscious memories.

Unfortunately, the film misses a four-star review by tying up a number of beats, subplots and character actions too neatly in the third act. The revelation of David’s whereabouts provides a powerful emotional climax, but also lets the other three characters off the hook for their own acts of deception against Frank. In the end, the children come out as more innocent than they should be and only reactive to their hard-line father.

But these last minute failings doesn’t diminish the film’s remarkably poignant and thought-provoking slice of familial relationships and the lengths we all go to get approval from our parents.

“Everybody is Fine” is available on DVD from Walt Disney Home Video

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