Everybody's Fine

2010-03-17 11:09
Everybody's Fine

What it's about:

Frank Goode (Robert de Niro) is a recently widowed retiree whose one wish is to get all his kids around the dinner table again. After each of his four children fail to turn up at the family home for the weekend, Frank sets off on a cross-country trip to visit each of them in turn and reconnect with his family.

What we thought:

Everybody's Fine is actually a remake of the 1990 Italian film Stanno tutti bene (They're All Good), starring Marcello Mastroianni. And even if you had never seen or heard of that movie, Everybody's Fine will likely bring to mind About Schmidt, in which Jack Nicholson played a pretty much the same character, on the same quest. Only it was a far better film, one that combined pathos and humour to create a memorable account of life after the world has given you up for useless.

It also gave Jack Nicholson the opportunity to act his age, finally, and Everybody's Fine presents De Niro with the same challenge. While it's intriguing to see De Niro in an uncharacteristically sedate role (Frank is terribly kindly and is the type of guy who'd shudder at foul language and bad manners) it's less so watching him take his long, solitary trip on the highways and railways of America. A heart condition brought on my many years of hard work erecting the country's telephone wire network means that travel by air is out of the question.

Frank first makes a stop in New York to see his youngest, the troubled artist David, but no-one's home. Next is youngest daughter Amy (Kate Beckinsale), a successful ad executive with a strangely strained home life. But it's not long before she makes an excuse to get Frank out of her house and on his way the next sibling, Robert (Sam Rockwell). Frank is under the impression that Robert is the conductor of an orchestra, but arrives during one of his son's rehearsals to discover that's he's just a timpani drummer. It turns out that Frank knows as much about his children's lives as his wife told him, or rather led him to believe. Robert tells his father that their mother always told the kids to work hard and be successful in life because it's the reason their father works so hard. So the Goode offspring, now grown and dealing with the hard truths of life – the disappointment, despair and compromise that come with it – believe that what their father doesn't know won't hurt him.

His last stop is in Las Vegas, where daughter Rosie (Drew Barrymore) is a dancer – but her most recent show just happens to have ended the night before her father's arrival. It's clear that Frank dotes on Rosie more than his other kids, and she is certainly more welcoming of her father. But even here, Frank picks up clues that all is not well with his family. They all seem to tiptoe around the issue of where David is. And telephone conversations between the kids as images flash by of Frank on another desolate road trip indicate that something is very wrong.

Everybody's Fine chooses to reveal its cards in a particularly mawkish 'dream sequence' in which Frank finally gets to confront his kids around that symbolic dinner table, but it's the idealistic child versions he sees. The film deals sensitively with the process of growing old and how easy it is to lose that connection with people closest to us.

Only the story is told with a complete lack of energy. Many of the scenes lack the kind of dynamism to be expected from a cast of this calibre. It's a story that might encourage some to finally make that call to their elderly parents, but as a film, it's rather a bore.

Frank wanted the holidays to be picture perfect. What he got was family.

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