No holiday cheer, but “Everybody’s Fine” here

By Kate MacDonald

Kirk Jones and company definitely did something right when they made this season’s newest family film, “Everybody’s Fine.” The director, known for “Nanny McPhee,” adapted his new film from 1990’s Italian flick “Stanno Tutti Bene” by Giuseppe Tornatore. The biggest difference, disregarding the obvious language disparity, is the all-star cast Jones has put together.

Robert De Niro stars as Frank Goode, a recent widower who wants to reconnect with his four children, all of whom are spread around the nation. When the kids were younger, Frank worked a lot, so it was his wife who was close with the children. He realizes after they all cancel on him for Christmas dinner plans that he really doesn’t know anything about their lives. So he decides to embark on a tour of cities in the United States, yet in so doing, his worst fears are confirmed. Despite a shiny exterior, he knows nothing about the deeper, darker lives of his own offspring.

De Niro shines as Goode, a character unlike the other greats he’s played in the past. He comes off as a soft yet strong father who has always tried to do the right thing by his family. De Niro proves his acting prowess, bringing heart and emotion to a storyline that no one can deny is extremely predictable.

Big name actors Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore and Sam Rockwell were cast as Goode’s secretive children. They each bring depth and insight into the private lives children try to hide from their parents, children that – despite being advanced in years – continue to crave parental approval. The three really shine as, albeit supporting actors, but stars in their own right in “Everybody’s Fine.” Beckinsale’s type-A character, Amy, whose marriage isn’t as perfect as it seems, Barrymore’s Rosie, a “Daddy’s girl,” and Rockwell’s Robert, a musician constantly seeking approval band together and try to shield the very dark, criminal life of the final son, David.

The chemistry between the characters is palpable. The children are believable, playing close siblings who maintain constant contact after De Niro leaves the home of each one. Their relationships with their father, while different for each sibling, is just like any kid might have. Unfortunately, this makes many of the scenes in between the emotional father-child scenes very unremarkable.

However, this is where “Everybody’s Fine” meets one of its only pitfalls—cornyness. At the introduction of each of Frank’s kids, he sees flashbacks of them as young children. It gets a tad repetitive, and reaches a pinnacle when, after the secrets begin unraveling, questions and shouts at their childish forms.

Despite the season in which it was released and the trailers showing holiday scenes, a holiday film it is not. Quite the opposite; “Everybody’s Fine” is a film that will illicit emotion and only a few laughs. A cast of great dramatic actors and a few comedic ones sprinkled in here and there, “Everybody’s Fine” is certainly not the happy go lucky film it comes off as being in trailers. Movie goers will follow Frank with some trepidation, and end up feeling sorry for him. The questions on everyone’s minds throughout the film will be, “Where is David?” and “When will the kids come clean and tell their father about their real lives?” Will it be too late?

Don’t make the mistake of heading to the theater to see “Everybody’s Fine” to get into the 2009 holiday spirit. Chances are audience members will leave the theater feeling sad, but satiated. The film is, at the very least, a genuinely good movie. It has great characters, a decent plotline, and real life problems. It just happens to be in a winter setting. With any other cast, this film could easily be a flop, but thanks to great casting, “Everybody’s Fine” is a pretty good flick to wrap up the year.

Kate MacDonald can be reached at [email protected]