Film Review: Everybody's Fine

Low-key family drama showcases a different side of star Robert De Niro.

Everybody’s Fine, the American remake of Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 film Stanno tutti bene, delivers a different Robert De Niro than we’re used to seeing. Of late, the Oscar winner has had more success in comedies like Analyze This and the Meet the Parents series that have fun playing off his volatile persona, the one indelibly sparked by his many collaborations with Martin Scorsese. Everybody’s Fine shows De Niro in an unusually subdued mode, and reminds us of how much time has elapsed since the actor’s mesmerizing breakthrough in Mean Streets.

The presence of a low-key De Niro may be novelty enough to attract audiences to this melancholy road movie about family deceptions and dissolution, along with the casting of three appealing actors as his children, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell. Modest box-office is likely, but older viewers will find elements that resonate with their own life disappointments as families mature and grow apart.

As the film begins, retired wire-factory worker Frank Goode (De Niro) makes elaborate preparations for a barbecue with his four grown children, the first such family gathering since his wife died eight months earlier. But, one by one, each cancels the visit due to schedule conflicts or pressing matters at home. So Frank impulsively decides to make a surprise visit to each of his kids, scattered across New York, Chicago, Denver and Las Vegas.

In New York, Frank never meets up with his youngest son David, a painter, after waiting on his doorstop overnight. In Chicago, he marvels at the spectacular home of daughter Amy (Beckinsale), a successful ad agency executive, but there are obvious tensions percolating when Amy’s family gathers at the dinner table. In Denver, Frank discovers that his son Robert (Rockwell) isn’t an orchestra conductor, as he was led to believe, but merely a percussionist. Finally, daughter Rosie (Barrymore), a Las Vegas dancer, seems to living well in a luxurious apartment, but there’s a side to her life she’s been afraid to reveal. In fact, the siblings are all conspiring to cover up the truth about their brother David.

It should be clear by now that the title is to be taken ironically. “Everybody’s fine” is the default response to a father who was much more autocratic and distant than the seemingly gentle, doting fellow we’ve been traveling with. Writer-director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine) peels back the layers gradually, but his script still leaves a lot between the lines (literally, thanks to the recurring visual metaphor of telephone lines that Frank’s former workplace serviced). Third-act revelations and a fantasy sequence in which the siblings’ younger selves voice their adult gripes rush to fill that void, but the film needed even more family history than it ultimately delivers.

Though dramatically a bit thin, Everybody’s Fine does offer its pleasures. De Niro in vulnerable mode is an unexpected sight, and he’s surprisingly convincing as a man way past his prime and out of his element as he attempts a cross-country journey (oddly enough, almost entirely filmed in Connecticut). It’s also a treat to watch this modern movie icon interact with the three talented actors playing his siblings. His scenes with Rockwell are especially fraught with unspoken backstory, and De Niro and Barrymore make a charming combination. The evocative widescreen compositions of cinematographer Henry Braham (who also shot Jones’ Waking Ned Devine and Nanny McPhee) are another plus, seldom betraying their origin on digital video.