Monday, December 14, 2009


Somebody lied! Nobody is fine in "Waking Ned Devine" writer & director Kirk Jones' family problem potboiler "Everybody's Fine." This maudlin soap opera about a retired widower who embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery is occasionally contrived, constantly predictable, and wholly forgettable. Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate
Beckinsale, and Sam Rockwell were simply picking up paychecks when they made this mundane melodrama. Nevertheless, "Everybody's Fine" (** out of ****) belongs to De Niro and his performance is appropriately solemn. There are no outbursts of the primitive rage that occur in his crime pictures. Jones scatters a modicum of humor throughout this 99-minute, PG-13 yarn, replete with low impact surprises. The overall effect is rather bland. We the audience see everything from the father's perspective. Often we are several steps ahead of Frank because Jones allows us to eavesdrop on telephone conversations among the siblings. The most important character here is the deceased off-screen wife who served as the intermediary between the father and his children. Ultimately, "Everybody's Fine" amounts to everybody's bored. Too much bathos and not enough humor paralyze this yawner.

When we meet Frank Goode (Robert De Niro of "Goodfellas"), he is dutifully vacuuming the carpet in his living room, watering the flowers, and mowing the grass. He has a stone cherub fountain on his lawn and the water spouts from the little guy's peter. Clearly, writer & director Kirk Jones must have adored this statue because he sticks it in three shots. This is as close as "Everybody's Fine" comes to irreverent humor. When none of his four grown-up children can make their annual pilgrimage to his house, Frank--who lost his wife eight months earlier--sets out on a cross-country journey to surprise them. He delivers mysterious envelopes to each that contain an old family photograph of his wife and he when the children were youngsters. Frank's conscientious physician, Dr. Ed (James Murtaugh of "Romeo Is Bleeding") warns his patient that he should settle down in the garden and work on his green thumbs rather than go gallivanting all over the country. Most of the surprises that Frank encounters have already been revealed in the trailer.

First, Frank visits his artist son David (Austin Lysy of "Hitch") in New York City, but nobody answers the door. We catch only a couple of glimpses of David, but he figures prominently in this tale. Frank's genuinely troubled son went off to the Big Apple to make a name for himself as an artist. Initially, David wanted only to paint. Frank warns him that painters only paint walls and dogs pee on those walls so
David becomes an artist. When Frank cannot hook-up with David, he slips his letter under his door and heads off to his next stop. Second on Frank's list is Amy (Kate Beckinsale of "Underworld"), his oldest daughter. She works as an advertising executive with a spacious office and has a son, Jack (Lucien Maisel of "Fast Track"), but things are far from right at home. Amy and her husband have separated because she caught him cheating on her with another woman. Jack and his father
don't get along together during a family dinner. Naturally, Frank has no idea why Jack behaves in such an unfriendly fashion toward his father at the table. Amy has to cut short Frank's visit because she has to fly out of town the following day, and Frank hits the road again. Third on his list is his oldest son, Robert (Sam Rockwell of "The Green Mile"), who Frank mistakenly believes is the conductor of a symphony orchestra. Actually, Robert does nothing more than bang the drum. Robert points out to Frank that he is a conductor in other musical venues, but nobody will pay him to be a conductor. He isn't married and he doesn't have children. Fourth, Frank meets his daughter Rosie (Drew Barrymore of "Whip It") in Las Vegas. He learns later during a surreal scene around a picnic table that Rosie is a lesbian with an infant child. Rosie claims that she works as a casino dancer. Despite his medical condition, Frank has no problem riding trains and buses to see his children. He has a brush with a pathetic mugger at a depot, but he manages nicely by himself.Finally, after he sees Rosie, Frank decides to fly home. Frank has a fear of flying, but he is so upset by all the revelations about his children that he just wants to clear out of town pronto. Once he is aboard the plane, he suffers a heart attack and
winds up in the hospital.

More often than not, "Everybody's Fine" seems like a made-for-cable Lifetime movie for old guys. Frank learns that he pushed his kids too hard and that they related better to his now defunct wife than to him. It seems that she kept several important things about their children from him. The most imagination thing about "Everybody's Fine" is when Frank sees his grown-up kids, he sees them as they were when they were
munchkins, very sweet and adorable. No, Frank doesn't die at fadeout, but the ending qualifies as only semi-happy. Eventually, Frank learns what happened to his talented but troubled youngest son. Nevertheless, three out of four isn't bad. This tame tearjerker is only for those who enjoy wiping their eyes and nose with Kleenex every twenty or so minutes. Incidentally, "Everybody's Fine" is a remake of Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore's "Stanno Tutti Bene" (1990). The cinematography is spectacular and the settings are scenic. Nothing memorable happens in this Miramax underachiever.