Thursday, December 3, 2009
Everybody’s Fine, an oft repeated and rarely true idiom spoken by distant family and friends for the ease of unemotional conversation, is the perfect ironic title for a story in which nobody is fine. This isn’t a holiday movie per se, but the release date fits nicely with the spirit of the story, which is a solid family drama that is surprisingly honest.
The recently widowed Frank (Robert De Niro) has fibrosis of the lungs, and his only wish is to have his four children around the dinner table for a good ol’ fashioned family dinner. When each bails on a weekend visit, Frank takes it upon himself to surprise his offspring during an impromptu road trip, where he learns that the “everybody’s fine” he’s been hearing from them is far from the truth.
After he can’t find David in New York City, Frank travels to Chicago to visit Amy (Kate Beckinsale), a successful advertising executive. Everything seems fine with her son and husband, but an underlying tension suggests the contrary.
In Denver, his son Robert (Sam Rockwell) is part of an orchestra, as expected, but he doesn’t have the job Frank thought he had. And in Las Vegas, actress Rosie (Drew Barrymore) takes her father in a limousine on the way to her penthouse apartment, which seems too good to be true.
De Niro gives an understated yet highly effective performance, and makes Frank instantly identifiable with many of our own fathers/grandfathers. Often told by his children that he’s a perfectionist and difficult to talk to, you can see the pain and frustration in Frank’s eyes: That’s not how he wants them to view him, and he’s disappointed that’s what they think. He knows they were more comfortable speaking to their mother, and understands that, but that doesn’t mean he can’t handle or doesn’t want to know the good and bad of their lives now.
Writer/director Kirk Jones paces the story well, and throws in some nice touches to help us understand Frank, namely by showing that he often sees his children as kids rather than the adults they’ve become. Jones is also sly in that the issues the adult children face are not immediately obvious, but are apparent enough that Frank could put the clues together.
Family dramas used to be common in Hollywood, but now feel like a rare breed. Both Everybody’s Fine and Brothers (which also opens this weekend) are reminders of how good these dramas can be when done right.
Everybody’s Fine has difficult truths at its heart, but it also has happiness and moments of sadness that never overwhelm the story. Everybody may be far from fine, but the movie is nicely done.