Ed reviews 'Everybody's Fine'

 

2 stars, (PG-13)

Everybody's Fine is serviceable, I guess. Nice way to kick off a review. The drama deals with a husband and father still recovering from the death of his wife. When his adult children fail to show up for a holiday visit, he sets off to "surprise" each of them. Some of the movie pays off.

Robert De Niro plays the father, Frank Goode. Frank is a regular guy, not a larger-than-life movie character, and De Niro adjusts his performance accordingly. Frank is low key - his wife acted as the social buffer between him and the kids. Now he's on his own and, once he decides to check on each of his children, he proves to be quietly relentless; fumbling socially, but never losing sight of his goal.

I cared about Frank, and watching Robert De Niro work certainly kept me engaged. But it's hard to get fully invested with a character when the actor is working so damned hard to appear to be ordinary. Everything about this non-flashy man seems so calculated, with De Niro measuring out his trademark mannerisms ever so carefully. I cared about Frank, but I never got lost in the character. Robert De Niro was in the way.

The structure of the movie is a problem, as the pattern for the story becomes clear within the first few minutes. The excuses offered by the kids aren't true and we must sit and stare as Frank visits each of their homes and tries to sort it all out. Four kids, four visits, four lies. Despite the poignant moments, the process becomes tedious. Encounters with a panhandler (Brendan Sexton III) and a truck driver (the wonderful Melissa Leo from Frozen River) feel like they were thrown in just to break the monotony. From time to time, Frank pictures his adult offspring as young children. Sometimes the device is effective, sometimes it seems gimmicky.

Notice how I'm being less colorful than usual? I'm trying to match the movie. Kirk Jones directs the film, which is an Americanized version of the 1990 film Stanno tutti bene, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. Jones seems less forced here than in his determinedly quirky Waking Ned Devine, but just as tiresome.

As three of the adult children, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell do what they can, but there's only so much one can do with lies and starchy exchanges. Beckinsale's character is the most irritating, while Barrymore's personal sunniness tempers her character's sitcom circumstances. Rockwell gets to emote all over the place.

I'm not being cynical here. Parts of the movie moved me (the images of a painting late in the film made me tear up) and, like most of you, I can relate to a broken family trying to get by and maybe even evolve a little. If you're in a forgiving mood, or if the situations hit particularly close to home, you may be less distracted by the story mechanics and mannered casualness. Otherwise, Everybody's Fine is serviceable, I guess.

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