Everybody's Fine (2009)

reviewed by
Jerry Saravia

Reviewed by Jerry Saravia
RATING: Two stars

Not everything European or made on foreign waters translates well to American shores. Consider the putrid 1993 remake of "The Vanishing," or don't. Remaking a Marcello Mastroianni picture like "Everybody's Fine" is not asking for trouble necessarily, not when most people might stack it up against the formidable "About Schmidt." This new version of Mastroianni's film is not bad nor remotely putrid, but hardly surprising at all. It is told too confidently in the guise of a feel-good drama with nothing new to say despite a game cast.

This is a shame considering the cast. Robert De Niro is Frank, a widower who lives alone in his house. He is a retired phone wire factory worker (he manufactured the PVC coating), and he has heart and lung problems as a result of inhaling toxic fumes. He also has problems when it comes to matters of the heart - in other words, he is a regular Dick Cheney. Just kidding. Frank hopes to reunite with his kids for a special dinner at his house and each one calls him to tell him they can't make it, for one reason or another. The reason may be that Frank was too strict, too much of a disciplinarian, too eager to make sure his kids improve their lives and make something of themselves. Frank decides to visit each of his kids across the country, from New York to Las Vegas. Of course, he better be sure to take his meds.

"Everybody's Fine" unfolds exactly as one would expect as you've seen this story a hundred times, not just in the original Mastroianni picture. What makes or breaks a picture like this is personality and colorful characters. Not so with this film. Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, and Sam Rockwell don't bring freshness or color to their roles because they have not been written as anything other than flat character types. One is a supposed Vegas starlet, the other is supposedly married and works in advertising and lives in a sterile glass house, and one is a drummer for an orchestra. Surely writer- director Kirk Jones could've mined this script for some character exploration, something that went beyond formula and trite cliches. Instead it is actually hard to picture De Niro as a disciplinarian because he acts like a father who is too soft and far too nice - not exactly like the strict father he played in "This Boy's Life." So since we can't believe De Niro as this supposed taskmaster, the rest of the cast is not believable as kids who have led lives pushed by the expectations of an overzealous and demanding father. It is as if the film is saying, damn you Frank! These kids are not living happy lives because you pushed too hard! Hogwash.

I will say De Niro is more laid-back and relaxed than usual as Frank, but it is not a nuanced portrayal (his role in "Stanley and Iris" was far more nuanced and that was hardly a good picture). Nor are Barrymore, Beckinsale or Rockwell given any opportunity to lift the script out of its doldrums either (Rockwell fares better but that is because he is the best actor of the three). The scenic shots are splendidly done but one too many shots of phone wires against a sky backdrop become monotonous. Interior shots are composed with the same tidiness that echoes Frank's life. Overall, the movie is pleasant and harmless enough but with such an intoxicating cast, it should be dynamic instead of perfectly adequate. Or maybe that is the point of Frank - everything and everyone is perfectly fine and adequate so why go against the confines of adequacy?

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