I’m not quite sure what Kirk Jones’ Everybody’s Fine is trying to say, but it isn’t said with enough conviction. There are a lot of stray themes here – kids neglecting their parents, the effects of a father putting too much pressure on his children, of his kids hiding the truth to avoid disappointing him – but nothing really gels, and the film seems to grow more implausible as it goes along. Not a good sign for an intimate drama.
Oh, it’s competently shot and directed and put together, and front and center is a pretty good performance by Robert De Niro as the father, but what does it want to say? It’s okay to lie to your loved ones and tell them everybody’s fine, to shut them out of your life and shelter them from your own inadequacies?
The first twenty or thirty minutes of the film are the best. De Niro plays Frank Goode, a late-sixties retiree whose wife passed away eight months ago. He’s preparing for a family get-together with his four adult children, and opening scenes show him buying meat, wine, a new grill at the local store. I could have easily watched De Niro shop for groceries for the entire film.
The kids, however, stand him up. So Frank, despite a heart condition, plans a cross-country trip with stops to see them all. They might politely tell him they’re too busy to spend any time with him and send him on his way, but at least he’ll get a glimpse of his children.
First up is David (Austin Lysy), a New York artist. He’s not home, but Frank sticks around for a while, making small talk with a passing prostitute and an elderly man at the local diner. These little vignettes are realistic-perfect, with a stoic De Niro playing off the eccentric people his character comes across wonderfully.
As the film progresses, the vignettes are overpowered by complications (read: unnecessary plot contrivances) that develop along the journey and eventually force an air of implausibility.
Frank’s other children are Amy (Kate Beckinsale), a Chicago advertising executive, happily married with a teenage son; Robert (Sam Rockwell), conductor with a Denver orchestra; and Rosie (Drew Barrymore), a successful dancer in Las Vegas (no, not that kind of dancer). But everybody’s life (spoiler) isn’t so fine.
Everybody’s Fine is based on the 1990 Italian film Stanno tutti bene directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (fresh off his most successful film, Cinema Paradiso) and starring Marcello Mastroianni in the role played by De Niro here.
I haven’t seen the earlier film, but can imagine something has been lost in translation. Everybody’s Fine is capably made by director Jones (Waking Ned Devine), and successfully identifies the situation faced by its main character, but its attempt to reconcile his conflict is unsatisfying and even unnecessary.