DVD Review: Everybody's Fine (2009)

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If you've ever told somebody you're “great” when you're not or told grandma a white lie to save her feelings regarding just how much you "absolutely love" a holiday present, then you can just go ahead and save one hundred minutes of your life by skipping Everybody's Fine.

For, as the title implies, everybody-- and especially families when brought together at reunions or functions-- says they're fine just to avoid rocking the boat. We all put on camera friendly “say cheese” smiles and participate in the rituals consisting of bragging about our accomplishments in order to mask our own unique dramas of dysfunction, misfortune, secrets and lies and joys and woes we hide in our own private worlds.

And while it would be nice if people had a much more open and honest exchange with one another, deep down, we've gotten so used to this kind of communication that it always sends us running in the other direction when we meet individuals who are guilty of offering too much information to strangers by treating every encounter as though it were time to go into some reality television series “talk to the camera” booth.

Obviously, to build an entire contemporary film around the allegedly surprising revelation that people shield the truth from others makes Everybody's Fine feel like something of a dinosaur-- like a lost movie from the '50s just being dug up today. Likewise, it makes it feel just as antiquated as the wiring of the land lines that connect telephone poles together, which our main character Frank Goode (Robert De Niro) crafted his entire career.

And although eventually the film from Nanny McPhee and Waking Ned Devine director Kirk Jones fails to inspire strong feelings of enjoyment in viewers as we watch, it begins with a sequence that is the epitome of cinematic heartbreak. Still trying to adapt to life without his beloved, deceased wife, Frank Goode's one ray of hope and excitement comes in the form of getting everything ready for his four grown children to come and visit.

From purchasing the right groceries to ensuring that the backyard looks like a Rockwell painting and-- similar to the way that we discover Frank pushed his children to go the extra mile even after they'd run a figurative marathon-- he keeps planning and dreaming until a slew of phone calls trips him up as one by one, his children offer dubious excuses why they can't make it.

Already getting the impression that-- because in America this type of thing sadly occurs all the time-- perhaps Everybody's Fine had roots elsewhere, it was at this point when I stopped the film to see if Ozu's Tokyo Story was an influence.

Yet while Ozu's film about grown children who don't exactly give their visiting parents the red carpet treatment wasn't listed, it does turn out that part of the reason the film feels so dated is because it's a remake of Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore's Italian '90s picture of the same name.

And despite the fact that I'm still unsure whether or not Tornatore's movie had gotten its idea from Ozu, that's the vibe you get as this episodic work continues, clunking along like the wheeled luggage Frank thuds down a flight of stairs while en route to the homes of all four offspring.

Going against the advice of his doctor and complete with four hand-written notes and envelopes for each child, our initial Lifetime movie antennae kicks in as we question whether or not our lead who does actually have a health condition is dying but Jones (or actually Tornatore) gets bonus points for keeping Frank's health scares to a minimum.

Yet, unfortunately, they just can't resist laying on the contrived treacle in one painfully obvious segue that utilizes a dream sequence as Frank finally gets a ticket to the clue bus, realizing in the form of seeing the group as kids around his picnic table that everybody isn't as fine as they pretended.

Fine boasts a terrific ensemble cast consisting of Kate Beckinsale, her Snow Angels husband Sam Rockwell and his Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Charlie's Angels lover Drew Barrymore as three of Frank's children.

And while their chilly reception of our poorly developed protagonist Frank is even more devastating than the cancellations, we're quick to realize that there's two sides to every story once we learn just how much aggravation, bullying, and over-discipline to push themselves past perfection they'd experienced with Frank growing.

While it really has no hidden cards to play with, it lets us in on an obligatory tearjerker factor secret fairly early as the children prove that regardless of age, sometimes they still band together to watch out for each other vs. the old man, thereby killing our interest within the first act.

Likewise, Kirk Jones' dud of a film that inexplicably features this many talented people sleepwalking through their roles is an immense disappointment all-around, save for Rockwell who at least tries to do something with his barely fleshed out character that they may as well have called Son Number 2.

Overall, it's true marvel as to why on Earth anyone of De Niro, Barrymore, Beckinsale and Rockwell's caliber would've even signed onto this in the fist place. And although the polite thing would be to tell you that it's perfectly fine-- out of respect for you, dear readers and the theme of the film-- let me assure you, it's not fine; instead it's a waste.

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FTC Disclosure:
Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.