Cinema: Everybody’s Fine
Cast: Robert De Niro, Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale
Director: Kirk Jones
Screenwriter: Kirk Jones
With childrenâ€™s blockbuster Nanny McPhee and the quirky Irish-set Waking Ned Devine to Jonesâ€™ credit, it is hard to know what to expect from this, his first American crossover film which is itself an adaptation of a 1990 Italian film by Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore. That said, the cast is probably the main initial draw here as it features the likes of Robert DeNiro, the uber-brilliant and ever reliable Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore and Kate Beckinsale amongst its line up.
The story concerns recent widower Frank Goode (De Niro), a man who worked hard all his life at a telephone wire factory in order to provide for his now grown-up children, the advertising exec Amy (Beckinsale), artist David (Austin Lysy), percussionist Robert (Rockwell), and dancer Rosie (Barrymore). The high expectations Frank put on them as well as his constant absences meant, however, that his children had connected more with their late mother leaving Frank to then realize that he has to reconnect with his uncommunicative family and promptly then sets about arranging a gathering at which to do so.
When all his children cancel Frank plans a road-trip across America to visit them and it is only then that it is gradually revealed that firstly, they had been lying to him about their lives in order to meet his high expectations, and also that they originally cancelled in order to conceal a family tragedy from him, the discovery of which leads Frank to reassess his attitudes towards his children.
The message is clear: parents can be over-demanding and that plenty of honest communication within families is vital. It is one which, when handled right, could be poignant, funny and sharp. Unfortunately, Everybodyâ€™s Fine only manages to be passably entertaining with but a sparse assortment of funny or observant moments and a tendency towards sentimentality, particularly with its mawkish soundtrack by Dario Marianelli.
Meanwhile, the imagery seems to push the filmâ€™s message a bit too frequently, the many repetitive shots of telephone lines accentuating needlessly the â€œIsnâ€™t this ironic? Theyâ€™re talking about lying to dad on the lines that dad worked on,â€™ theme which, after a dozen or so times, veers towards becoming patronizing. Some of the scenes also seem very stagey, particularly the scene where Frank meets an old man in a diner and starts talking to him about how his family are too busy to see him. Themes of familial estrangement have been done many times over elsewhere and, it has to be said, more convincingly, more uniquely and in more subtle and affecting ways in films such as Tokyo Story, The Royal Tenenbaums The Savages and Cherry Blossoms.
As to the cast, De Niro continues to rest on his laurels a little. Heâ€™s still fairly interesting to watch but not half as convincing as he used to be and spends way too much time looking either slightly bewildered or resorting to his default â€˜genialâ€™ demeanour. Even Rockwell, whose last performance in Moon was captivating, doesnâ€™t seem to get a head of steam going. The rest of the cast, even Beckinsale, are decent enough in their roles but there are certainly no stand-out performances.
But then they havenâ€™t really got much to work with. The scenes we see them in donâ€™t tell us much beyond the fact that they are all pretending that they are happier than they are. There is too little back-story given of their childhoods other than that which serves the main message of the film so all we hear about is how over-bearing Frank was. Even when we do see them as children they are figments of Frankâ€™s imagination talking to him as they would currently, making it hard to really engage with the characters.
The film does have its moments though, such as when we see, in a satiric swipe at advertisers, a pitch in Amyâ€™s office featuring a helpfully talkative fish but moments like this are too far between.
By Priscilla Eyles
Everybodyâ€™s Fine is out 26th February courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.