Thursday, December 03, 2009

Everybody's Fine (movie review)

Title to the contrary, all is not well with this sentimental and unsatisfying Robert DeNiro vehicle. Read my extended review, below, or read the reviews as published in Las Vegas City Life and Folio Weekly.

Everybody's Fine
Rated PG-13; 100 minutes

Everybody's Fine, a Robert DeNiro vehicle with the former tough-guy actor as an aging widower striving to reconnect with his adult children, must have sounded just fine on paper.

Adapted from the 1990 drama of the same name from celebrated Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), the new film was helmed by Brit director-writer Kirk Jones, responsible for quirky small-town comedy Waking Ned Devine.

Structurally and thematically, it's reminiscent of Alexander Payne's About Schmidt, with Jack Nicholson as the widower on the loose, and Paul Mazursky's 1974 gem Harry and Tonto, with Art Carney as an elderly man traveling cross country, staying on the move with the knowledge that he still hadn't found what he was looking for, and not even sure that he'd recognize it if he did.

Some might draw parallels between Jones' movie and Sam Mendes' recent Away We Go, about a young couple on a North American road trip, a quest for a place to call home, experiencing dysfunctional family and friends along the way.

Sadly, Jones' film is inferior to the above mentioned movies. Despite its pedigree and its respectable cast, with Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, and Kate Beckinsale in supporting roles, Everybody's Fine is as sentimental and saccharine as it is unconvincing in its portrayals of various slices of Americana.

Jones, who also directed Nanny McPhee, offers establishing exteriors and extended interior shots that do little to give viewers a real feel for life in various locales portrayed onscreen -- New York, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas.

Worse, the film is another exhibit marking the continuing decline of a once great actor. DeNiro, aiming to illuminate the emotional life of a man mired in melancholy, sadness and, eventually, regret, alternately underacts and overacts -- crying, wincing in pain -- on cue. His performance, in a role originally played by Marcello Mastroianni, comes off as lazy or simply imperceptive.

It's as forgettable as the work of practically all of the other cast members, with the exception of Rockwell as a son who's a struggling orchestral percussionist, and Melissa Leo, in a small role as a sympathetic long-haul truck driver.

Frank Goode (DeNiro) begins his journey after three of his kids beg off from attending a family reunion that would have been the clan's first gathering since their mother's death. So he cuts his losses, disobeys doctor's orders not to travel, and sets out on a trip to visit each of his children on their respective home turfs.

The first stop is New York, at the apartment of youngest son David, a painter. Frank waits on the stoop all night, but the artist never shows up; the script doesn't explain the absence of a cellphone, generally useful in these situations. In Chicago, Frank connects with his daughter Amy (Beckinsale), a successful and wealthy advertising professional facing troubles on the home front. In Denver, he meets up with Robert, who's just getting by on a musician's salary and perfectly happy with lowered expectations, and in Las Vegas, he visits youngest daughter Rosie (Barrymore), who says that she's content with her life as a dancer at casinos.

Heavy handed metaphor making, regarding communication gaps and the breaking of barriers to truth telling, is abundant here.

But the story comes with disconnects: Is Frank merely a good guy, trying to make things right with his offspring, after decades of ceding relationship building to his late wife? Or is he a mellowed and reformed SOB dad, who once pushed his kids "pretty hard," as Rosie says, and is now aiming for something like last-act redemption?

Trouble is, Jones isn't really sure, which makes it awful hard for viewers to really care about how it all turns out.

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