Everybody's fine, huh? Clearly, no one checked on Judge Clark Douglas.
Our review of Everybody's Fine, published February 23rd, 2010, is also available.
Frank wanted his holiday to be picture perfect. What he got was family.
"A million feet of wire to get them where they are today."
Facts of the Case
Robert De Niro (Goodfellas) plays Frank, a widower who lost his wife only a short while ago. Understandably, he really wants to have his four grown children (played by Kate Beckinsale, Underworld, Sam Rockwell, Moon, Drew Barrymore, Fever Pitch and James Frain, True Blood) come home to visit for a while. Alas, all four come up with rather weak-sounding excuses: they're busy, something just came up, it's not going to work out this time, they're so sorry, maybe next year, love you Dad. Determined to see his family despite his health problems (Frank has a lung condition that prevents him from being too active), the family patriarch hits the road on a mission to pay short visits to all of his kids. However, when he arrives, he discovers that the lives of his children aren't quite the picture-perfect images they've been painting for him all these years.
It's easy to tell where Everybody's Fine is headed from the very beginning. Heck, the movie so blatantly telegraphs every plot development and emotional revelation that by the time the movie gets around to officially making its point, we're experiencing déjà vu. See, Frank thought everyone was fine, but it turns out that they're not fine. Everyone was just pretending to be fine, because they were worried about what their father would think if he discovered they weren't living up to his oh-so-high expectations. Cue the apologies, tears, bittersweet moments, and sentimental piano music. Okay. So maybe the movie doesn't really have anything original up its sleeve. Early on, when all of the blatant telegraphing was occurring, I was fairly certain that I wouldn't be able to recommend the film. To be sure, the movie went exactly where I expected it to go. However, by the time the credits rolled, I had just completed a surprisingly satisfying viewing experience. Why?
The film's understated sincerity goes a long way toward making the whole thing work. Sure, much of the film may be contrived, but so many of the little moments feel so spot-on that the somewhat less credible big developments are easier to swallow. The lead character is well-defined by the screenplay. Frank isn't exactly out of touch with the modern world on the level of someone like Walt Kowalski of Gran Torino, but he definitely moves at a different speed from most of the people around him. There's a little running gag revolving around Frank's expectation that the hustling, bustling world will pause for a moment so that he can get a quick picture with his camera ("Oh, this is actual film…um, how great," one of Frank's relatives murmurs). Frank is so used to the concept of carrying a suitcase when he travels that he's genuinely surprised when his grandson points out that Frank's luggage is equipped with a handle and wheels.
It's certainly not the sort of role one generally associates with Robert De Niro. Admittedly, he does come across as being slightly awkward and uncomfortable playing such a good-hearted middle-class American, but fortunately the awkwardness actually serves the role well, accurately reflecting Frank's general sense of politeness mixed with his mild discomfort about the way the world works these days (when he meets a gay man named Steph, you can tell that he's doing his best not to comment on how peculiar he finds that name). What's really encouraging about the role is that it affords De Niro an opportunity actually put some genuine effort into a performance. This is one of cinema's great actors, but it's become increasingly easy for him to sleepwalk through a performance. Granted, this turn doesn't hold a candle to De Niro's best work (or, for that matter, to Jack Nicholson's rather similar performance in About Schmidt), but it's good work nonetheless.
The actors playing Frank's children are all more or less asked to offer varying degrees of buried tension and reservation. No one actually dislikes Frank; there's no real bitterness or ill will towards him. To a large degree, he was a good father. Still, he pushed them so hard and his expectations were so high that everyone genuinely fears letting him down. Some may be absolutely desperate to cover up everything remotely negative (Beckinsale's character will employ any sort of convoluted story in order to preserve a sense of perfection) while others may only hide small portions of the truth (see Rockwell's superbly half-hearted declaration of peace and contentment), but nobody wants to tell Frank what they're really feeling. The one-on-one meetings with the children simultaneously climax in a terrific scene in which Frank has a conversation with all of them. What is revealed during that scene is expected, but the way the scene is staged is very intriguing.
Everybody's Fine (Blu-ray) offers a satisfying 1080p/2.40:1 transfer which captures the film's gentle palette quite nicely. The film's low-key imagery makes it easy on the eyes, as it avoids the garish brightness of many holiday-themed flicks. Detail is strong throughout, flesh tones are natural and blacks are satisfyingly deep. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track isn't anything to write home about, but it presents the dialogue and amiable original score with clarity and depth. There's very little in terms of complex sound design, but the track is more than serviceable. Supplements are limited to a music video and some deleted/extended scenes.
Everybody's Fine may be about as daring as that pleasant little Paul McCartney number that plays over the end credits, but more often than not it is truthful and heartfelt. I found it touching. There are better options out there; but this film is a tender little observation of humanity that is as bittersweet an experience as looking through an old album of family photos.
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