© 2009 Ray Wong
Based on the 1990 Italian film Stanno tutti bene starring Guiseppe Tornatore, Everybody's Fine is a warm, intimate family drama centering on a widowed man and his four children.
Frank (Robert De Niro) is a recently widowed father of four adult children: Amy (Kate Beckinsale), Robert (Sam Rockwell), Rosie (Drew Barrymore), and David (Austin Lysy). On a holiday weekend, Frank is expecting them all to convene at the family house -- the first family gathering since the funeral. One by one they cancel on Frank. Instead of moping around, Frank decides to travel across the country to surprise his children, despite the objection of his doctor due to Frank's health issues.
Frank visits David, his youngest and an artist, first in New York. But after waiting outside his apartment for a day, Frank never gets to see his son. Next, he travels to Chicago to see Amy, is a senior advertising executive. However, Amy insists on Frank leaving to see Robert in Denver instead, because she and her husband are extremely busy. When Frank arrives to see Robert, who works in the symphony, he gets a similar response. Feeling rejected, Frank reluctantly makes his final trek to see Rosie, a dancer in Las Vegas.
Through this trip, Frank realizes he's spent more time on the road than with his children, much like the way he was when the kids were growing up. He also realizes that he doesn't know anything about them. When his wife was still alive, she served as the mediator between the children and him. They told their mother everything. But only good news would filter through to Frank's ears. During the trip, Frank makes startling discoveries about his family, and ultimately about himself as a father.
Robert De Niro (Righteous Kill) is a great actor -- we all know that. Still, it's a pleasure to see him in a small, intimate role that allows him to flex his thespian muscles. His portrayal of Frank, a common man, is nuanced and subtle and affecting. There's a also a genuine quality to his performance that you hardly think he's acting. He makes you see the flaws in his character but, at the same time, feel for and identify with him.
The actors who play the adult children all hold their own against the master. Kate Beckinsale (Whiteout) is superbly collected as the overachiever, but you can see the seams falling apart around her. Sam Rockwell (Moon) is more than capable to upstage De Niro, if that's possible. Rockwell has a hard edge about him and that works extremely well for his character. Drew Barrymore (He's Just Not That Into You) plays an extension of her off-screen persona, but she fills that role so well that you hardly notice. It's good to see her in a mature role, however.
Written and directed by Kirk Jones (Waking Ned), the story is gentle and subtle. From the opening shots of Frank doing yard work to the final scenes, Jones manages to make everything come across as genuine. The dialogue is natural. He also includes minor characters who complete the story without being relevant -- much like real life. The focus doesn't waver away from Frank, however. We get to experience the journey -- and it is one heck of a journey both physically and emotionally -- from Frank's perspective, with the occasional reveals from the children's side.
It is when the story briefly cuts away from Frank (mostly to reveal a central plot point) that the narrative seems to falter a bit. I understand the reasons and thematic importance, but somehow I feel the revelations could have been handled differently. There are also a few contrived moments just to keep the plot moving.
Jones' down-to-earth style also adds to the authenticity of the film. Mostly, he lets his actor do their thing. He also uses a few interesting cinematic trick to convey to us Frank's mentality and sentiments, without using voiceovers. Some may argue these techniques as heavy-handed, but I like them. They gives the story extra layers and deeper emotions. Perhaps I'm a sucker for stories about parent-child relationships -- a few scenes did manage to choke me up.
Everybody's Fine is a small, intimate movie with huge emotions, but told in a subtle way that it keeps the audience engaged. With stellar performances from the cast, especially the amazing De Niro, the film could be a surprise contender come award season. It is a fine, fine thing.
Stars: Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell
Director: Kirk Jones
Writers: Kirk Jones (based on Stanno tutti bene written by Massimo De Rita, Tonino Guerra, and Guiseppe Tornatore)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, strong language
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 8 out of 10