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Everybody's Fine
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by Peter Sobczynski

"How Do You Say "Unnecessary Remake" In Italian?"
2 stars

I was about to kick off this review of the new melodrama “Everybody’s Fine” by suggesting that it was the kind of movie that my venerable mother would like--it goes about its business in a quiet and resolutely unsurprising manner before arriving at a denouement that is as safe, cheerful and predictable as it could possibly be. The only trouble with that assertion is that while my mother is definitely one who prefers her entertainment to be of the non-edgy variety and to contain no big surprises and happy endings, she is smart enough to recognize when a film is trying too hard to emotionally manipulate and to resent it for doing so and that is exactly what this one does for virtually its entire running time. The result is a fairly treacly mess that wastes a good cast and a potentially moving premise by hammering the sentimentality home so relentlessly that the Paul McCartney tune that plays over the end credits comes across as tough as nails by comparison.

Based on a 1990 Italian film of the same name from Giuseppe Tornatore, “Everybody’s Fine” stars Robert De Niro as Frank Goode, a reasonably lovable old coot with a bum ticker who, as the story opens, is preparing for a visit from his four grown children--the first time that they have all been together since the death of his better half eight months earlier. At the last second, however, he gets word that none of them are going to be able to make the trip, he impulsively sets out--against his doctor’s orders, naturally--to visit them at their own homes bearing envelopes that they are meant to open later. This trip takes him first to New York City, where he waits outside the apartment building where youngest son and struggling artist David lives but he never turns up. From there, he heads to Chicago to visit the lavish home of daughter Amy (Kate Beckinsale) and her family. His next destination is Denver to see musician son Robert (Sam Rockwell) and follows that up with a jaunt to Vegas to spend time with dancer daughter Rosie (Drew Barrymore) in her ultra-swank digs while helping to babysit the infant child of one of her acquaintances. As he goes from destination to destination, Frank gradually begins to discover that the idealized descriptions of his children’s lives that he had been getting over the years from them and his wife have not been entirely accurate--Amy is having marital problems, Robert is a mere percussionist instead of the conductor of the Denver Symphony and one hardly knows where to begin with Rosie. What he doesn’t realize is that something mysterious has happened to David and the other three are once again conspiring to keep the sordid truth from him for as long as possible until it can finally be deployed for maximum effect during the tear jerking climax.

While my memories of the original “Everybody’s Fine” are somewhat shaky, I seem to recall that it sort of worked without coming across ass too blatantly manipulative, at least by the standards of sentimental Italian melodramas. In translating the material from Italy to America, writer-director Kirk Jones (whose “Waking Ned Devine” was hardly a testament to the tenets of stoicism) deploys the material with the heaviest hand imaginable. By the end of the film, there is not a tear that hasn’t been jerked nor a heartstring remaining unplucked and after a while, its sheer relentlessness in this regard begins to work against to the point that by the time it finally get to its big emotional climax, even the biggest softies in the audience will find it difficult to respond to it in any significant way. While Beckinsale, Rockwell and Barrymore are all as good as can be expected in their roles, the actions that their characters take in trying to conceal the truth about their brother from their father seem so outlandish, so self-centered and so needless that they all wind up coming across as fairly unlikable as a result. Arguably the biggest problem with the film, however, is its sheer predictability. Despite being a road movie, a genre that is generally distinguished by a certain looseness in its narrative structure, the story lurches from one story point to another without ever giving the material a chance to breathe or the characters to do anything other than convey their necessary plot points and then disappear. The various dramatic conflicts--whether they are the major ones involving Frank and his kids or the minor ones involving things like Frank and his precious medicine--are all too pat and familiar to make much impact. I am aware that when it comes to this kind of storytelling, a certain degree of familiarity is not necessarily a bad thing but every aspect has such a pre-programmed feel to it that it becomes wearisome.

The one interesting and relatively unexpected aspect to “Everybody’s Fine”--though not an entirely successful one in the end--is the presence of Robert De Niro in a rare role as a nice guy with nary a mean bone in his body. For the last decade or so, with the major exception of “The Good Shepherd” (the sprawling epic chronicling the early days of the CIA that he directed and which looks better and better with every subsequent viewing), his career has consisted almost entirely of half-baked and thoroughly anonymous genre crap trading on his name (the fact that “Righteous Kill” is not the worst of the bunch should indicate just how bad the others are) or painful comedies trading on his reputation as a serious actor and tough guy (sheer human dignity prevents me from mentioning any of them here). In “Everybody’s Fine,” for the first time in a while, there is the sense that he is once again flexing his acting muscles and putting an effort into giving a real performance instead of simply coasting along on his rapidly eroding reputation. The only trouble is that the role here is one for which he simply isn’t well-suited. This is the kind of part that requires an actor who is a slightly larger-than-life charmer to help pull the film through its more mawkish moments. The original film, for example, had Marcello Mastroianni in the lead role and he is someone who possess those exact qualities and he pretty much single-handed kept things going because of his charm and charisma. De Niro, on the other hand, actually tries a little too hard and his attempts to ground his character in a detailed reality winds up working against the otherwise sentimental material after a while. He is as good as can be but he just isn’t the right actor for the role and since the whole thing is essentially a star vehicle for him and has nowhere to go without him, the whole thing just kind of sinks on his shoulders.

“Everybody’s Fine” is not the worst movie that you will see--it isn’t even the worst pointless remake of an award-winning foreign film being released this weekend--and for people who don’t go to movies very often and who want to see something that won’t disturb their sensibilities at all, it could prove to be a mildly satisfying night at the movies. Considering the level of talent involved, however, the fact that they could come up with something this innocuous in the end is perhaps the single most surprising thing about it. This is the kind of movie that you put on the television while you are doing something else--packing a suitcase, cooking a meal, writing a long-overdue movie review--because even though you aren’t paying attention to it at all, the sheer predictability of the material means that you can still follow along with it regardless. That sort of familiarity is reasonably comforting within the confines of one’s home but it is hardly worth the price of a movie ticket or the two hours-plus spent at the theater watching it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18288&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/04/09 00:12:27
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User Comments

8/12/13 Charles Tatum Surprisingly touching, nice performances by all 4 stars
1/03/10 Carol Baker Even DiNiro couldn't save this boring movie and he's the only thing in this movie 2 stars
12/11/09 Phillip W. Weiss Robert DeNiro's strongest performance in years. 4 stars
12/10/09 Ming This film just too boring for me 2 stars
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  04-Dec-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 23-Feb-2010


  DVD: 23-Feb-2010

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