Can everybody be fine when everything is not? Everybody’s Fine is a relentlessly sad movie about the words families share, and the volumes they do not. Robert De Niro, as widowed retiree Frank Goode, is planning a reunion at home with his four adult children. As the film opens, we see him vacuuming the living room of a suburban Elmira home, mowing the lawn, filling the kiddie pool. He shops for steaks and wine. (One of the few funny scenes in the film is when he asks the grocery store stocker for wine recommendations for his children. “These are not for children,” the stocker replies.) He buys a deluxe barbecue grill.
Ironically, the photos accompanying the disk say “comedy,” but it’s not. Definitely not. Miramax bills it as a “heartfelt dramatic comedy,” leaving the viewer to wonder where the heart is. Most dramas have their lighter moments — this is no exception — but that does not make them comedies. This is melodrama in its truest form.
One by one Frank’s kids call and cancel out of the weekend. We next learn that Frank has lung disease and is not well enough to travel. His doctor advises him to garden, something he’s been doing and doing and doing. Against doctor’s orders, he decides to visit his four children, one by one. His first stop is New York City to visit son David, the artist. David is not home. David will never be home. This is what happens when you don’t call ahead.
Frank is a lonely guy. His wife has been dead for about five months or so, and he’s got no one with whom to talk. So he talks to everyone—the butcher in the grocery store, strangers on the train, ticket sellers, anyone. This is what it’s like for people who are suddenly lonely, who painfully miss interactions with others. These are De Niro’s strongest scenes.
Second stop, Chicago to visit daughter Amy (Kate Beckinsale), the successful advertising executive. Amy’s married and has a son named Jack. Jack provides welcome relief; he’s the only one in the family that’s glad to see Frank. He is also the only honest member of the family. By this time we’ve learned, though Frank has not, that David is in big trouble in Mexico. The siblings conspire to keep the news from Dad. Amy gives him the bum’s rush and sends him packing. Poor Frank spends more time on trains and buses than he does with his loving family.
Stop three, Denver! Son Robert (Sam Rockwell) is a percussionist in a symphony orchestra, though Frank believed he was the conductor. Robert, whom we know has time to spend with Dad, pushes him out the door and on his way to Las Vegas where dancing daughter Rosie (Drew Barrymore) meets him at the bus station, then brings him to a sumptuous apartment. By this time the viewer wonders, is this guy stupid? His kids obviously don’t want to be with him and he doesn’t seem to notice. He just keeps going on his merry way, smiling, and accepting. A widower in his 60s? He seems more like a dementia patient in his 90s. Give us the old De Niro who would have knee-capped these jerks, or at least cut them out of his will.
Rosie plans a dinner out at a swell restaurant, but a friend needs to drop off a baby and Rosie and Frank agree to babysit. Frank decides he wants to get home soon, and tells Rosie he would like to fly. Shocking because Frank never flies. He’s not leaving because he hates babies, but because he lost his medication. By this time, we’re pretty sure the family will all get together again—at Frank’s funeral.
Frank’s made a few observations during his visits, and he’s not totally oblivious to the fact that all his kids are lying to him. On the plane, there is turbulence and Frank has some kind of attack. The attack is a dramatic device used to render him unconscious so there can be a dream sequence. In his dream, Frank is in the backyard at a picnic table with David, Robert, Amy, and Rosie, but they are young children. He confronts them with some of his observations, and they confess the truth about their lives. Except for David, who is enigmatic. This scene could have worked; the children were actually quite good. It was De Niro who was clumsy, whose lines seemed stilted and wholly unnatural. Expository in nature, it was disappointing in delivery.
Finally the family reunites—in the hospital. Still the kids can’t level with Dad; they don’t want to tell him he’s had a heart attack. That’s not even the saddest news. The hopeful note on which the movie ends, fails to lift our hearts.
What is wrong with Everybody’s Fine? The actors do their best, or close to their best, with the material they're given. The cinematography is excellent, offering painterly views and postcard-perfect vistas. The neutral sets reflect the distance between father and children. Even the incidental music is good. The problem is that this movie has the aura of a “feel good” film without making us feel good. As Frank goes around the country visiting his offspring one wonders, “why?” Sometimes the best thing family members can have between them is distance, and the Goode family confirms that sentiment.
Scheduled for a February 23 release, the Everybody’s Fine DVD includes The Making of Paul McCartney’s “(I Want to) Come Home” and deleted and extended scenes. The extended scenes would have best been left on the cutting room floor. For example, one brief scene in the film, taking place in a diner, poignantly expresses the melancholia of the lonely man, but the pre-edited scene rambles and bores. The deleted scenes are not missed; they would have added nothing. Sir Paul's video is typical making-of stuff. His song is as forgettable as the film.
Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent Everybody’s Fine? No, it’s not drama; it’s dreary.