Unbelievable interactions prove the undoing of ‘Everybody’s Fine’

21 12 2009

Director: Kirk Jones

Starring: Robert DeNiro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale & Sam Rockwell

Released: Dec. 4, 2009

Incorrectly and unfairly advertised as a Christmas movie, Kirk Jones’ 2009 dramedy Everybody’s Fine leaves viewers with a feeling very much the opposite.

Set in August, Robert DeNiro plays Frank, a retired father of four who is struggling with the loss of his wife. His wife was the one who always kept in touch with the kids and he is unsure of how to interact with them now that she is gone, leaving him more alone than he thought possible.

He tries to reach out to them in the only way he knows how – by inviting them to a backyard barbecue, as that is what he remembers most about their family when the children were little – but his eager enthusiasm is thwarted as life gets in the way and none of the children can make it home.

In one of the few moments that evokes empathy for Frank, he listens to the messages of his kids bailing on the weekend as he looks at the photos of them when they were younger.

And just like that the sympathy dries up as Frank makes the decision that he is going to visit the kids. And not just any visit. He is leaving immediately and without warning so as to surprise them.

On his journey to his first son, David’s, house in New York, the thread tying the movie together is introduced. It turns out that Frank spent his life working in a plant that manufactures the coating that surrounds telephone wires. As he travels across the country, he gazes out the windows of the trains and buses he uses to traverse the country at these wires and we hear the snippets of conversation his children are having with each other. And they’re all discussing David.

When Frank arrives at David’s apartment he isn’t home. So Frank waits. And waits. And waits. Until he finally decides it’s not a good idea to wait on the steps of a sketchy brownstone in the artist district of New York and gets a motel room for the night before heading to the midwest to visit his daughter.

On his trip, we hear his daughter, Rosie (Drew Barrymore), asking her sister Amy (Kate Beckinsale) if she’s heard from David. Amy says no, and as they hang up we arrive outside Amy’s home in Chicago. The unexpected visit throws Amy for a loop and she sends Frank outside with her son.

DeNiro shines as he interacts with Lucian Maisel’s Jack. Maisel nails his role as a teenager who is skeptical that his grandfather can do relate to him, and DeNiro, who’s always excellent as a grandfatherly figure, tries his best to seem cool. Their banter about golfing is lighthearted and a welcome break in the tension of Frank not knowing what’s going on in his kid’s lives.

Amy and her family prove too busy for a lengthy visit with Frank, but that doesn’t stop him from witnessing Jack’s blow up at his father or from Frank to unexpectedly meet Amy’s coworker as she waits with him for his train at the airport.

If movie cliches’ aren’t your forte, as they obviously aren’t Frank’s, it’s clear that Amy and her husband are no longer living together, which angers Jack, and Amy has started seeing her coworker.

While it’s understandable that Amy wouldn’t want her dad to know that she’s having marital problems, his visit would have been a great time to tell him, but instead she shunts him onto a train to sibling number three, Robert, a “conductor” for a traveling symphony.

Robert isn’t a conductor, though, as Frank soon realizes when he sees him playing percussion in the symphony. Either Frank misunderstood his wife’s relaying of the message, or he chose to believe what he wanted, but he’s shocked and disappointed, nonetheless.

The terrific Sam Rockwell, coming off of amazing turns in Frost/Nixon and Moon, plays Robert in such a hapless and despondent way that it makes it believable that he wouldn’t want to correct his father’s glorified vision of his profession. Still, he’s busy as well and immediately turns around to put his dad on a bus to Las Vegas, where he’ll visit with Rosie.

All the while we’re hearing snippets of conversation about the elusive David, who appears to have gotten himself arrested for drug possession in Mexico, until Drew Barrymore picks up her father – a little worse for wear as he got into a fight at the train station – in a limo.

She discusses how the show she was a dancer in ended the week before Frank’s visit but she wants him to come see her next one as they drive down the strip towards the Luxor and Mandalay Bay to her condo next to the Stratosphere (anyone with a general knowledge of Vegas would recognize the fact that these locations are on opposite ends of the strip). They’re supposed to go to dinner in the Stratosphere, but those plans are derailed as Rosie’s neighbor brings her baby down with a plea for an emergency babysitter.

As movie cliches’ go, we’re up to two glaring monstrosities as it’s obvious from the loving gaze Rosie shoots her father as he plays with the baby that Frank is actually holding his grandchild for the first time.

Things start falling into place in Frank’s mind and he decides he has to leave for home the next day to sort things out in his mind. En route, he has a heart attack which induces a strange dream sequence in which he confronts all of his children, as children, about why they lied to him, which is where the movie completely derails.

While the dream sequence clears any questions one might have had about the identity of Rosie’s baby and the fact that she’s a waitress on the strip instead of a dancer, or the state of Amy’s marriage up, it breaks up the flow of the movie and tells the audience everything they already know.

The heart attack brings all of his children to his bedside, though, so in a way, they’re all together, just as he wanted. Until he forces them to tell him that David is dead, which is where the train, which has already derailed, is hit by another train to create a whole mess of craziness.

It’s understandable that one might not want their father to find out that they’re having marital problems, or are a percussionist instead of a conductor, or are questioning your sexual orientation, but it’s quite another to not tell your father that one of his children is dead. That’s not the type of information you keep from a parent, ever.

But this movie has a happy ending, as Frank forgives his children for not telling him one of his offspring is dead in Mexico and they all get together for a happy-go-lucky family friendly Christmas.

Final verdict: The completely unbelievable plot line is only slightly forgiven with a masterful turn by Sam Rockwell and Lucian Maisel’s interactions with the grandfatherly DeNiro, but that doesn’t stop this movie from being REALLY CRAPPY.

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