May 6, 2010
We watched the 2009 film “Everybody’s Fine,” starring Robert De Niro and Drew Barrymore, and it was — well — fine. The movie, which also stars Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell, is based on an Italian flick, “Sono Tutti Bene.” The American version has earned about half of what it cost.
The premise is that a widower, Frank Goode (De Niro), who lives alone in upstate New York, has his mind set on getting his four children to gather around the same table. A reunion at the family home has been arranged, but the kids cancel on Frank. Frustrated by this outcome, he decides to travel across the country and visit them — unannounced — one by one. His first stop is New York City to see David, who is an artist, but David is not at home, and does not come home. Frank moves on to visit daughter Amy (Beckinsale), who is an advertising executive — married and the mother of one boy. Lying ineffectively because she’s hiding bad news about David and about her marriage, Kate tells Frank that his visit was ill timed, and she hustles him out of town as quickly as possible.
Frank moves on to Denver, where, he mistakenly believes, son Robert (Rockwell) conducts a symphony orchestra. Robert also bluffs, says he’s about to leave on a tour, and gets rid of Frank — breaking his promise not to call ahead to sister Rosie (Barrymore), a dancer in Las Vegas with a couple of secrets of her own. Rose gives Frank a warmer welcome, but this time he is the one who decides to cut the visit short because he lost a needed medication during a mugging incident on his travels.
What Frank’s children are keeping from him concerning David is made clear from early in the movie. What unfolds gradually as Frank sees through the lies his offspring tell him is that they and their mother systematically shielded him from bad news in the family while he labored to support them by coating telephone lines with a toxic insulation.
The children also nurse a vague notion that Frank was a bit too hard on them when they were growing up, but this turns out to have been more complex than they describe.
De Niro is surrounded by talented actors in this film, but the movie also provides him with a low-key tour de force in which an aging man figures out who he has been and who he is going to be for the rest of his life. The children discover that Frank is sharper than they gave him credit for, and he discovers that, as his children, they have fulfilled any worthwhile ambition he may have had for them.
“Everybody’s Fine” didn’t get a lot of attention, but De Niro did win the Hollywood Film Festival “best actor” award, and Paul McCartney’s original theme, “(I Want to) Come Home,” was nominated for several awards, including a Golden Globe.