Andy Bockelman: ‘Everybody’s Fine’ is mediocre family portrait
December 11, 2009
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
Running time: 100 minutes
Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell.
There's something off about the movie "Everybody's Fine," not the least of which is the fact that its title sounds like a kiss-off. Especially when you tend to think of "fine" as an anagram for Freaked-out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.
Since the death of his wife, retiree Frank Goode (Robert De Niro) has fallen out of touch with his four grown children. But his attempts to get everyone back to the old homestead fall flat when all of them call up and cancel.
So Frank decides it's his fatherly duty to set out and visit each of the kids himself. And as he makes his way across the country to see David (Austin Lysy) in New York, Amy (Kate Beckinsale) in Chicago, Robert (Sam Rockwell) in Denver and Rosie (Drew Barrymore) in Las Vegas, he finds that his progeny haven't been telling him everything about their lives.
De Niro, in a role quite similar to Jack Nicholson in "About Schmidt," is relatable as a parent who finds himself questioning his position in life. The always dependable actor comes through with flying colors in capturing his character's uncertainty in how to connect with kids who fear more than anything their father's disappointment, be it in their relationship problems, failed career goals or even their own identity.
As the song goes, the kids are all right — no more, no less — with Barrymore easily the best of them as Rosie, a would-be dancer whose mistruths amount to more than just not being a successful Vegas performer. But even having a solid occupation doesn't amount to happiness, as seen with Beckinsale's ad exec Amy, who's dealing with troubles in her marriage.
Rockwell is nicely forlorn as Robert, whose lies about being an orchestra conductor are exposed when Frank sees that he's merely a percussionist. But hey, the money's good, and he gets to travel.
Then there's fourth child David, whom Frank pushed the hardest toward his ambition to become an artist and whom his siblings are sharing a secret about.
There's a lot of camera focus on telephone wires for many reasons.
On one level, they pick up fragments of phone conversations between Frank's kids as they compare notes while their dad makes his way from one point to another. On a deeper level, the wires serve as a constant reminder of what stands between Frank — whose line of work involved wrapping phone wires in PVC coating — and communication with his sons and daughters.
The irony is hard to miss in seeing the gap between father and children that could be narrowed simply by picking up the receiver once in a while.
But, we all know it's not that easy. The family drama here is not one of bitterness and resentment but of distance, emotionally and otherwise.
Frank, forced to take busses and trains rather than planes because of a lung condition, is stuck in the past in more ways than one. Besides still using a camera that uses film in the digital age, the kids he has seen in the frames of so many family photos still appear 10 years old in his eyes, and they don't seem to have grown up much because they can't bear to be straightforward about their lives as adults.
The lingering predicament of "Everybody's Fine" is that the conflict of the Goode clan isn't harsh enough to feel real, and it's not resolved in a way that feels as tender as it should. Still, some may view this shortcoming in the way that it's intended, as honest acceptance and love among family members.
And you know what? That's fine.