Robert De Niro and Drew Barrymore star in ’Everybody’s Fine,’ a film exploring the relationships between a recently widowed father and his estranged children.ap photo
Some films seem natural and effortless.
Others, like “Everybody’s Fine,” must go through all sorts of gyrations and machinations to make any sense.
Based on a similarly-titled 1990 Italian drama starring Marcello Mastroianni, this borderline weeper from Kirk Jones (“Waking Ned Devine,” “Nanny McPhee”) stars Robert De Niro as Frank, a blue-collar retiree in upstate New York. A recent widower, Frank is looking forward to having his four children home for a reunion.
But one by one they cancel. Despite health problems, Frank decides to hit the road. He’ll pay surprise visits to his offspring.
His first stop doesn’t pan out. Artist son David is AWOL from his NYC apartment. Apparently he’s out of town.
In Chicago, daughter Amy (Kate Beckinsale) runs an ad agency and is struggling with some unspecified marital crisis. There’s lots of tension in the household, especially between Amy’s husband and middle-school son.
In Denver, Frank discovers that son Robert (Sam Rockwell) isn’t an orchestral conductor after all. Rather, Robert is a somewhat sad underachiever content to bang away in the percussion section.
In Las Vegas, daughter Rosie (Drew Barrymore) is a dancer between gigs and minding a friend’s baby.
None of the kids seems particularly glad to see Frank, and they all make a point of sending him off after just one night of frosty hospitality.
“Everybody’s Fine” is a mystery of sorts. Occasionally we intercept telephone conversations among Amy, Robert and Rosie. The topic is the missing David, who seems to have gotten into some sort of dire trouble in Mexico. They all agree to keep their father in the dark.
De Niro is, of course, among our best actors, but even he can’t precisely pin down Frank’s character. We learn later on that Frank may have been a hard dad, one whose tough love was particularly rough on the missing David. But there’s little of that gruffness in the Frank we now see, a fellow who strikes up conversations with strangers and plays around with his grandson.
In rewriting the original Italian screenplay, Jones has wisely injected droll moments, which give the proceedings a more lived-in, less artificial atmosphere. And a scene of reconciliation effectively tugs at the heartstrings.
But you can’t shake the feeling that “Everybody’s Fine” is based on a phony premise made tolerable only by the efforts of a strong cast.
What: “Everybody’s Fine”
Starring: Robert De Niro, Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Kirk Jones
Running time: 95 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language