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Secrets and Lies: Kirk Jones, Robert De Niro Walk a Fine Line in Everybody’s Fine

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Denver plays a small part in Everybody’s Fine, the tearjerking family drama disguised in recent trailers as a feel-good holiday film starring Robert De Niro.

Unfortunately, the Mile High City needed a stand-in. Like almost everything else these days, you can blame it on the economy. The Denver scenes were actually shot in New Haven, Connecticut.

Writer-director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine, Nanny McPhee) went to great lengths to shoot his first American film — a remake of Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 Stanno tutti bene — that would “show off your country.” Saying he stayed in the cheapest hotels he could find, the British native traveled across America, hitting New York, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Kansas City — even Denver and Leadville, Colorado — to do research for the film.

During a post-show Q&A at the 2009 Starz Denver Film Festival on November 19, Jones said he intended to re-create parts of his cross-country journey that was included in the original budget for the film, “and we would have come to Denver.”

However, “financial restrictions” forced Jones to abandon most of those grand plans, so Woolsey Hall on the Yale campus served as the fictitious Denver Orchestra Hall, where dad meets up with one of his sons, played by Sam Rockwell.

It’s one of the few false notes in Everybody’s Fine (Miramax Films/Radar Pictures), which will be released nationally December 4. De Niro plays widower Frank Goode, who decides to visit each of his four grownup children in different parts of the country (New York, Chicago, Denver, and Las Vegas) after all of them are no-shows for a family reunion/picnic. It would have been the first time for them to reconnect since the funeral for his wife, considered the “glue” that kept the family together, was held eight months earlier. So, Frank surmises, “If you don’t come to me, I’ll go to you.”

Hoping to surprise each of his four children along the way during a road trip filled with buses, trains, a truck, and a plane (Frank hates to fly), it’s well-meaning dad who realizes his seemingly successful and oh-so-attractive brood (Kate Beckinsale and Drew Barrymore?) haven’t been telling him anything about their lives. Their excuse? One of his girls offers, “We tell you the good news and spare you the bad.”

While the siblings share secrets, lies, and cover-ups with each other (mostly through phone conversations), dear old dad is left trying to figure out things for himself. Father Knows Best this isn’t.

With some comedic moments included (De Niro trying to hit a golf ball is a hoot), this primarily is a touching film that will not only tug at your heartstrings, but likely rip them out. In its initial screening in Denver, there was much more sobbing than laughing.

Yet it avoids many of today’s predictable, soap opera-like tricks utilized in American films, including another recent take on family dysfunction, the disappointing Solitary Man, which also was shown at the festival. Someone’s cynical idea of an aging male’s wet dream, the movie starring Michael Douglas and Mary-Louise Parker fails on many levels despite its stellar cast.

While Jones added three more days of filming after principal shooting was completed, he said he “made the film I wanted to make.” The man who got hooked on filmmaking after watching Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso had finished “an American project I could call my own.”

If there’s anything heavy-handed about Everybody’s Fine, it’s the fixation with telephone wires as a metaphor. The wires and telephone poles seen throughout Frank’s travels serve as a connection to his former blue-collar job in a factory where he coated “a million feet of wire to get (the children) where they are today.” The shots, Jones said, allowed him to show the irony that, “Frank helped so many people communicate, but he couldn’t communicate with his own family.”

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  • Terry

    Shoot “Denver” in New Haven?! The audience at the Denver International Film Festival should have tarred and feathered him on the spot, and ran him out on a rail! If you don’t have the money…don’t shoot the film!