December 10, 2009

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Everybody’s Fine (PG-13)
Robert De Niro is an EveryDad on a journey to visit his children in Everybody’s Fine, a three-hanky weepy.

Frank (De Niro) is a retired widower who spends most of his time gardening and is eagerly awaiting a visit from his four adult children. At the last minute, though, they all cancel. He decides to surprise each of them with a visit. Because of weak lungs, he doesn’t fly but gets on trains and buses to cross the country. First, he goes to New York City to look for his son David (Austin Lysy), a painter. Then he goes to visit Amy (Kate Beckinsale), an advertising executive with a son and a posh modern house, exuding yuppie success. Then it’s to Denver to see Robert (Sam Rockwell), his son who he thinks is a conductor in the local symphony. Then it’s another train to Las Vegas to see Rosie (Drew Barrymore), a professional dancer, he believes.

At each kid’s house he finds things different from what he’s been led to believe. That his kids have been lying to him, about big and little things, all these years gnaws at him. And their lies of omission continue — while Frank is crossing the country to visit them, Robert, Amy and Rosie are all trying to find their brother David, who appears to be in some kind of trouble.

Everybody’s Fine is like one of those TV movies from the 1980s about dying or kidnapped kids mixed with the teariest of Oprah-book melodramas stuffed in, I don’t know, an old Kodak commercial about your grandma and a puppy. It pokes at your tear-ducts with something very near to glee, all but slicing onions under your nose and pouring lemon juice in your paper cuts. And it doesn’t let you pshaw off its grandiose emotions — it sneaks a solid De Niro performance in, so you can’t help but get invested in Frank. This is De Niro at his most underplayed. He’s just a guy, one who doesn’t over-emote but also isn’t cartoonishly stoic. He’s all little gestures — shrugs, blinks, half smiles and grimaces. It’s the sort of thing he can make look effortless and therefore look genuine. So even though he is Mr. Robert De Niro, when he’s there nodding and smiling at the image of his adult children, who he sees for a second as their elementary school selves, well, hell, people, I’m not made of stone.

Having said that, Everybody’s Fine feels more like a very successful weepy than a well-developed drama. I actually like all the adult kids’ performances and even think their stories are, at least, satisfactory. But there’s something about the whole endeavor that doesn’t completely gel.

This movie has now piqued my interest about 1990’s Italian-language Stanno tutti bene (“everybody’s fine”), the movie from which this one appears to be adapted. It’s an interesting concept for a story — the difference between the people we think our family members are and the people they think they are. Our ideas are created in childhood (ours, theirs) and therefore nearly impossible to change. With more finesse, I think a movie could really build a complete story around concept, not simply use it to showcase one standout talent. So I’ll add the Italian version to my Netflix queue and be certain to stock up on Kleenex just in case. C+

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language. Written and directed by Kirk Jones (from an Italian movie by Massimo De Rita, Tonino Guerra and Giuseppe Tornatore), Everybody’s Fine is an hour and 40 minutes long and distributed by Miramax Films.