DE NIRO BACK IN FORM
>‘ EVERYBODY’S FINE’ REVIVES STAR’S POWER TO CARRY THE SHOW
THERE WAS A TIME when one could take it for granted that a Robert De Niromovie would be notable for — if nothing else — a good Robert De Niro performance.
Those were the days before the rote grimaces of “Flawless” and “Men of Honor,” before the auto-pilot mugging of “Righteous Kill,” before the phoned-in menace of “Godsend” and “Hide and Seek.” (Can you believe De Niro starred in two scary movies with kids in less than two years?)
So it’s something of a surprise that the new “Everybody’s Fine” contains an honest, thoughtful, relatively unmannered De Niro performance. In fact, the movie — a family-reconciliation drama that is more artful than its misleading ho-ho-holiday-humor trailer would suggest — is carried by De Niro as surely as if it were part of the lonely widower’s baggage he totes across the country in writer-director Kirk Jones’ serviceable if uninspiring production.
De Niro is Frank Goode, a bored retiree with “fibrosis of the lungs” who decides to pay surprise visits on all four of his far-flung children after each of them drops out of a planned family reunion at the old suburban homestead.
In Chicago, daughter Kate Beckinsale is a top ad executive. In Denver, son Sam Rockwell plays with the symphony orchestra. Las Vegas daughter Drew Barrymore claims to be a successful dancer. The children harbor secrets, which strains their relationship with their once-demanding father, who doesn’t understand why his impromptu appearances are greeted with a relative lack of enthusiasm, and without the warmth the kids used to show their late mother.
Inspired by the 1990 Italian film “Stanno Tutti Bene,” with Marcello Mastroianni in the lead role, “Everybody’s Fine” is most interesting at its simplest, as when it depicts Frank’s awkward interactions with his children, or his pride in the phone lines he sees everywhere he goes, which he protected from the elements in his old job in a PVC factory. (These wires prove handy when Jones wants us to hear what the kids are talking about with each other, but doesn’t want his camera to leave De Niro too far behind. Instead of cutting back and forth between characters, in typical movie phone-call fashion, Jones simply inserts shots of the telephone poles and lines outside Frank’s train car or hotel room, and adds voiceover conversation.)
Nicely constructed and beautifully shot (Jones has a good eye for compositions), the movie is let down by its sentimental final act, which does with Frank what movies always do to old people: sends him to the hospital. Still, any parents and grown children who pick “Everybody’s Fine” for family holiday viewing are likely to leave the theater feeling good about their choice, if slightly guilty that they no more want a surprise visit from their relatives than do Beckinsale, Rockwell or Barrymore.
Widower Robert De Niro pays a surprise call on daughter Drew Barrymore and her two siblings in “Everybody’s Fine.”