Do you have a dysfunctional family? If so, you might sympathize with the character of Frank Goode in the film Everybody’s Fine. This movie, which stars Robert De Niro as Goode, didn’t make many waves when it was released theatrically last year. Surprisingly it was little publicized, despite having a cast that also includes Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell, and Kate Beckinsale. When it makes its Region 1 DVD debut on February 23, however, this quiet, intelligent, well acted ensemble piece will hopefully reach a wider audience.
In Everybody’s Fine De Niro’s trio of renowned co-stars play Goode’s children. Despite their maturity and experience, it was not a problem relating to them as though he was their father, De Niro explained in an interview.
"We didn’t have any great big discussions about that," he said. "Just things seemed to work and fit and so on. You make the adjustments as you work through the scenes and so on. But you don’t have to have any grand discussions about what it’s all about. You could, but it's not necessary."
In the film, Goode travels across the United States to meet and reconnect with his children after they cancel a planned get-together. He is surprised to find that things are not going as well for them as he thought. It is a common enough scenario in the real world and one that the director of Everybody’s Fine, Kirk Jones, attributes partly to the fact that these days family members often don’t live close together in America.
"Not so long ago, maybe 30 [or] 40 years ago, I think communities were much stronger and people tended to not move away so quickly," Jones said. "As soon as kids hit teenage years, their first thought is to escape the area in which they grew up and work in another country or work halfway across the country. I think all that’s good about living in a community is perhaps being lost in the modern world. You know, when I go back to Italy now I still see that there are smaller communities and there are communities which are still surviving. I think it’s a much healthier environment to grow up in and to stay in with the support of a community, rather than everyone just kind of heading off on their own."
In this globalized world there are cons to families being too insular, of course. Close ties are also no guarantee that the lives of some family members won’t go off track. Regardless of whether families stay together geographically, though, parents never escape from their obligations to their children. Goode is reminded of that in Everybody’s Fine as he tries to bridge the distance between himself and his offspring. De Niro is a father, too, and willingly acknowledges that it is not an easy role to play.
"I think it’s tough," he said. "There are good moments and not so good moments. Anybody who has children knows that. So, it’s just life. Needless to say, but as long as you have children, there’s going to be a problem. You know, that’s something."
Everybody’s Fine turns that inevitability into a story that borrows from the hard realities of family life while using the movies’ power to make us believe that things don’t need to turn out badly.
Everybody’s Fine is available on DVD from Buena Vista and Miramax Home Entertainment. Included on the DVD with the movie are deleted and extended scenes and a featurette on the song that Paul McCartney wrote for the film, "(I Want To) Come Home." The song was nominated for a Golden Globe but lost out to "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart. De Niro, though, received the 2009 Best Actor award at the Hollywood Film Festival for his performance in the film.