Everybody's Fine (2009)
Everybody's Fine is a nice picture about a dysfunctional family which keeps secrets. It should appeal to nice, dysfunctional, secretive people in the audience -- which probably is the majority.
One wonders why Robert De Niro would star in a movie that is so conventional. There isn't an ounce of Travis Bickel in De Niro's character Frank. Nor Jake La Motta. Nor Vito Corleone.
It's not that De Niro isn't capable in Everybody's Fine, it's just that Frank isn't a challenging role.
Probably De Niro took the role because Everybody's Fine had an estimable model; the original version Stanno tutti bene was made in Italy and released in 1990. It was directed by Giuseppi Tornatore with music by Ennio Morricone [who joined together to make the sublime Cinema Paradiso].
Stanno tutti bene starred one of Italy's greatest actors Marcello Mastroianni (La Dolce Vita). De Niro had something to which to aspire.
Unfortunately while the original is a work of art. Everybody's Fine is not.
In Everybody's Fine, De Niro plays Frank, a blue collar worker who spent his life working with telephone wire to give his children a better life. He is a recent widower and plans for his four adult children to visit for a family reunion.
But one by one they send their regrets that they can't come. None are comfortable with their father. They were close to their mother who kept their secrets from her husband, but they always were somewhat distant from their father. They still are.
Frank decides to visit each offspring and surprise them at their homes in New York, Chicago, Denver, and Las Vegas. His lifelong job has effected his lungs, so he has to be careful about traveling.
As he goes on his journey, Frank begins to realize how lacking in perception he was. His children still share a secret they don't want him to know. Frank tries to bridge the distance between him and them.
Director/writer Britisher Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee, Waking Ned) came to some fame for his ads for Absolut Vodka. Maybe they kept De Niro in vodka on the shoot.
The opening of the movie shows Jones's sensibility. When the movie opens with Perry Como on the soundtrack singing "Catch a Falling Star", it's apt. Frank is mowing his lawn. Then when Jones includes a peeing statue of a boy, we know we are not going to be in the hands of an artist.
At times Jones fumbles reality. There is no way that in a nearly empty railroad car, a woman would be riding backwards facing Frank. Little details such as that are careless.
But Jones has some moments that ring true -- Frank cursing strongly when he shanks a golf shot. A moment of Frank beside a roadside memorial is understated. And the picture a son painted is emotional for Frank and the audience.
The adult children are suitably played by Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, and Sam Rockwell, who stands out as the minimally successful son who is a member of an orchestra.
De Niro tries to hold the dysfunctional movie together, but memories of De Niro's past intrude.
One daughter (Beckinsale) is an advertising executive. In a "clever" moment of reference, when she has Frank attend an ad presentation, a fish asks Frank, "You looking for me?"
Yes, Bob, where have you gone?