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Movie Review: “Everybody’s Fine”

December 4, 2009
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everybodys-fine-2009_posterEverybody who has been fretting over Robert De Niro’s career as of late can collectively exhale a sigh of relief.  After carpet bombing the cinematic landscape with stink-bombs like The Adventures of Rocky and BullwinkleHide and SeekGodsend, and Righteous Kill, De Niro finally settles into a nice little film devoid of gimmicks and action.  Playing the widowed patriarch of four grown children, De Niro gives a quietly nuanced performance that grounds the film, and makes you remember why you liked him to begin with.

Everybody’s Fine tells the story of a very ordinary family and the events surrounding a holiday gathering.  Frank Goode (Robert De Niro) is recently widowed, and has made plans to have all four of his grown children visit him for Christmas.  He prepares the house, buys the groceries, purchases a new grill, and awaits their arrival.  One by one each child calls and cancels with generic excuses-”something’s come up”, etc.

This is where De Niro first starts to reel you in.  His face drops with each phone call, and you just want to go give him a hug, and go give his kids a good tongue-lashing for abandoning their poor, lonely dad on Christmas.   After contemplating the circumstances, he decides to travel to each one of them, against his doctor’s orders (he takes medication for fibrosis of the lung.)

On the first leg of his travel(s) he converses with a stranger about the PVC on the telephone lines, and how he had laid miles and miles of it during his career, effectively making him a cog in the machine that helps people connect with one another.  I found this odd speech strangely moving. I love when the mundane intricacies of everyday life are brought to my attention, and this one stuck with me.

As Frank visits each child and their family, he is greeted with suspiciously nervous behavior rather than the excitement and warm welcome he hoped for .  Again, you just feel so bad for him.  Over the course of the movie, Frank discovers that nobody, in fact, is fine.

I don’t mean that in an ominous sense, but rather in the starkly realistic sense that every single family has secrets that they try to hide from one another.  In particular, I think it is normal for children to want to shield a sick, widowed, father from any sort of bad news.  It’s human nature.  What Frank’s children come to realize is that by protecting him from the whole truth, they are actually hurting him by alienating him.

There is not a lot that happens in the movie, it unfolds as more of a character study.  There is a bit of a sense of mystery surrounding why everyone is so nervous, which unravels toward the end of the movie.

The  film is completely relatable to anyone who has a family.  You have the overachieving, beautiful daughter with the perfect house and husband (Kate Beckinsdale), the screwed up but gifted artist, the free spirit (Drew Barrymore) and a  brother who is a professional musician (Sam Rockwell.)  Frank worked through most of their childhood, so his late-in-life attempt to connect with them is typical of today.

Several times throughout the movie Frank has flashbacks to the children as he remembers them when they were still children.  Manipulative? You bet, but very touching, nonetheless.

Everyone in the movie does a good job of acting, but it is really De Niro’s movie to carry, and so he does.  It wonderful to see him so authentic in the everyman role.

I can’t really say that this is a great movie, but it is a good one, and you certainly could do worse with your money in theaters.  If you enjoy family dramas, this is the perfect one to watch this time of year.  You will have a renewed appreciation for what you have in your own, less than perfect family.  Bring a box of tissues.

Rating:  3.5/5

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