' Cinema Romantico: Everybody's Fine

Friday, December 11, 2009

Everybody's Fine

Like an aging, past-his-prime pitcher taking to the mound, Robert DeNiro, relying almost exclusively on guile and moxie, keeps the possibility that "Everybody's Fine" might just turn into something more than its premise suggests afloat for a few innings before the infield and outfield begin breaking down behind him and then, finally, he breaks down too.

DeNiro's Frank Goode is a retired widower. He chats with random folks at the grocery store whether they want conversation or not, spends long hours in the garden, sets up a kiddie pool as if its appearance will magically conjure up his four children in the backyard. Those four kids - two daughters, two sons - are all supposed to visit only to inevitably cancel, one by one. Against his doctor's advice Frank decides that instead he will go visit each of them, one by one. Thus, we find ourselves immersed in a heartwarming family dramedy that doubles as a road movie with endless shots of telephone wire supplied for symbolism's sake.

The kids: David, an artist living in New York who does not appear to be home when Frank visits, or could it be there is more to this missed stopover than meets the eye? Amy (Kate Beckinsale, auroral as always), a high powered ad exec in Chicago with one of those sorts of offices I'm never certain actually exist in real life. Robert (Sam Rockwell), a percussionist in the Denver orchestra who repeatedly has to tell his dad that he is not the orchestra's composer. Rosie (Drew Barrymore), living the high-falutin' life in Vegas as a member of a luxurious stage show. Or is she?

As we expect before the film has even started all Frank's kids harbor secrets of one kind or another and seem intent on shielding their father from the most unpleasant news in their lives. Why? Frank pushed them quite hard in their youth, of course. He did this, of course, because he merely wanted the "best" for them except his children, of course, have varying theories on precisely what the "best" entails. We see all this explicitly in a wretched fantasy scene at a picnic table where Frank talks to his children as if they are their adult selves though he sees them as the pre-teen kids they once were. This is Pound-The-Hammer-Syndrome of the highest order. Anyone confused as to what the film's message may or may not be (and how could anyone be confused?) won't be after taking this spell-it-all-out-for-us pie to the face.

Even so, a dignified, subdued DeNiro does his darndest to make it work. When the camera merely lays back and contemplates him, as it does often in the first act, the film rises above its material. Taking his pills, piecing together a grill late at night in the backyard, dragging his suitcase noisily behind him, blissfully anaware of the irritation it provokes, dining at a McDonald's, all these tiniest of moments capture a once great actor at his unforced finest. This suggests if writer/director Kirk Jones had gone the unconventional route and made this more of a neo-realist film while refraining from such overdone plot mechanics if might have been something different and therefore something much better. A distant father having rubbed off on his now distant children and attempting to reconnect. If only it had desired a little bit of boldness.

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