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Everybody’s Fine (2009)

by on 2010/03/24

I suspect a viewer’s reaction to Everybody’s Fine will depend primarily on how readily they can identify with the family dynamics on display.  There are many filters built into that assumption, especially in an era when the nuclear family is an anomaly.

More specifically, you might not relate to this film if the following conditions are true:

  • You have no siblings.
  • Both parents are either alive or deceased.
  • The notion of “family” brings you no warmth.

Pitched somewhere between Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Sideways, this movie plumbs some uncomfortable depths.  It was unsurprising to learn that Everybody’s Fine is a remake of a 1990 Italian film, Stanno Tutti Bene. It provides no solutions, but suggests that family may be the best insurance you’ve got against adversity.

Robert De Niro stars as Frank Goode, a recent widower whose four grown children have all independently declined his invitation to reunite for Christmas.  While a lesser piece might milk such sentiment, here Frank matter-of-factly decides to visit them all himself.  Thus begins a cross-country road trip, punctuated by four different stops en route, each with its own story, and separated by a different leg of the journey.  He gradually learns, as we already suspect, that all is not well in his children’s lives.  David (Austin Lysy) has a drug problem; Amy (Kate Beckinsale) has marital issues; Robert (Sam Rockwell) fears his father’s disapproval; Rosie (Drew Barrymore) is unsure of her sexual orientation.

On the page it seems by-the-numbers but, in execution, such issues are familiar to most people.  In fact, most of their “problems” turn out not to be nearly as large a stumbling block as their lies.  Here is a family that has trouble with the concept.  His children are careful to assure Frank that everything is as fine as he’s always expected it to be.  When he finally demands The Truth, we realize:  they may no longer even know what that is.

If I had to take issue with any aspect of this film, it would be with the song played so prominently at the end.  While the lyrics are not inappropriate, and I don’t doubt his ability to relate to the subject matter, Paul McCartney is an obtrusive choice after the low-key score we’ve heard thus far.  Here is a film that almost explicitly begs for the song “Wichita Lineman” (matching the tone and theme of the movie, not to mention its relation to Frank’s former line of work).  Of course, if the story or pacing lost you somewhere along the way, the end title song probably won’t make much difference.

“Cat’s in the Cradle” made cinematic, or “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” grows up?  Everybody’s Fine is both, and more.  It’s not a joyous affair, but neither is it hopeless.  However you define family, and whether you inherit it or build your own, you’re bound by what you share together, be that insulation, communication, or both.

* * * * *

Rated PG for language

100 minutes

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