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Everybody's Fine is based on Giuseppe Tornatore's 1990 film Stanno tutti bene, in which widower Marcello Mastroianni travels across Italy to visit each of his adult children, whom he imagines are all happy and successful. That's what they've been telling him for years, as a matter of reassurance and benign neglect. Mastroianni finds that his kids have a lot of problems he's never encountered; he first needs to understand how life in Italy has changed.
Everybody's Fine didn't do well in theaters, probably due to a combination of low-key subject matter and weak marketing. Nobody liked the trailer, and even the DVD packaging makes the film look like a softheaded family comedy. The smiley-faces of stars Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell barely resemble the characters in the movie. A few critics lauded De Niro's nuanced performance but many important reviewers stayed away, as if an interesting film couldn't be made from domestic problems that don't involve high crime or fantastic jeopardy. Everybody's Fine is an affecting drama with universal appeal, especially to parents. I expected a limp carbon of the Italian original and am happy to report that I liked it very much.
Ex- commercial director Kirk Jones hasn't so much remade the Tornatore film as transposed it, with an unexpected sensitivity to the chemistry of middle class American families. Retired plastics technician Frank Goode (De Niro) lost his wife eight months ago. He has worrisome health issues but is keeping up the house and doing reasonably well. He's disappointed when, after extending an invitation to his successful children to visit for a long weekend, all four beg off at the last minute for various reasons. Disobeying his doctor's instructions, Frank takes trains and buses to drop in on all of them, in the expectation of warm welcomes.
Frank has set himself up for a series of disillusions. Son David (Austin Lysy), a painter, is nowhere to be found in New York. Frank then shows up at the showcase home of daughter Amy (Kate Beckinsale), a top advertising executive. She rushes him out the door after a single night's rest, and something seems to be wrong between her husband Jeff (Damian Young) and Frank's grandson Jack (Lucian Maisel). In Chicago, Frank discovers that son Robert (Sam Rockwell) isn't the conductor in his orchestra, but merely a percussionist. He begins to feel that his child-rearing habit of demanding excellence and success from his kids may have been an error. Finally, Frank travels to Las Vegas to join his daughter Rosie (Drew Barrymore), a dancer. Taken to her palatial apartment in a limousine, Frank realizes that all three of his kids haven't been telling him the truth about most everything. Frank suddenly wants to know what's going on with David. Where is he really? Is he in trouble?
Everybody's Fine works precisely because it deals with everyday family politics not normally made the focus of high drama. Frank's lost his wife but is emotionally stable; he doesn't come unglued when his reunion is canceled. While enjoying Robert De Niro's understated performance, we pick up information about Frank as we go along. His bartering for a barbecue shows that he's no dummy, but he's a stranger to some of the realities of modern life formerly handled by his beloved wife. Frank expects a supermarket stockperson to advise him on a wine purchase. He totes his carry-on luggage bag around until someone shows him that it rolls with an extendable handle. Frank is proud of his work in plastics engineering, and the repeated traveling shots of America feature the telephone wires that he helped produce ... he's contributed to the country. Frank is just humble enough to realize that he wasn't really attentive to his children beyond urging that they achieve success; his wife insulated him from most disturbing issues. His kids assume he's incapable of handling anything resembling the truth. Frank's real journey is one of self-discovery, so as to re-connect with his adult children outside of his traditional paternal role.
Frank believed all those telephone calls claiming that "everything's fine"; and only after visiting his kids does he realize that their disappointing excuses -- "You came at a bad time"; "the orchestra is going on the road"; "David is just out of contact" -- are masking deeper secrets. The way the film resolves this familial disconnect is very satisfying. The original Tornatore picture used elaborate fantasy sequences but Kirk Jones limits Frank's interior daydreams to visions of his kids as actual children, played by a well-chosen quartet of child actors. These fantasies represent the way Frank prefers to relate to his kids, and only when the phantoms begin to tell him disturbing truths does he realize that he needs to re-evaluate his point of view.
There's some good acting here, all scaled to Kirk Jones' non-hyped view of how normal people (as opposed to their filmic counterparts) actually behave. Kate Beckinsale presents a calm front while running at least four "kindly" deceptions on her father. Sam Rockwell shows some understandable spite that Frank is disappointed to discover that he's not a celebrity conductor -- Robert's real conductor boss barely acknowledges him. Drew Barrymore's Rosie has been tipped off in time to prepare an elaborate charade for her father, leading us initially to wonder what her job in Las Vegas might really be. But De Niro gives what could have been a mawkish 'Father Knows Zip' role both dignity and depth. It is a special part for De Niro, after a decade with too many uninvolved performances in dumb comedies. Everybody's Fine is strongly recommended.
Miramax's DVD of Everybody's Fine is a good transfer of Kirk Jones' bright drama, filmed in HD video. A French audio track is included along with French and English subtitles. A featurette-interview with Paul McCartney covers the production of his song I Want to Come Home, heard over the end credits. A fat selection of deleted and extended scenes shows some good editorial decisions. One wise excision has Frank Goode running out into the rain to express his despair. An extended scene in a diner with an elderly gentleman talking about his estranged kids retains a wonderful camera run-out: the gentleman breaks character to tell De Niro that he really likes his movie work!
There seems to be some confusion with this title -- a Blu-ray was expected concurrently but none has surfaced.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Everybody's Fine rates:
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