mon 14/10/2019

Everybody's Fine | reviews, news & interviews

Everybody's Fine

Everybody's Fine

Tears of emotion or laughter? Robert De Niro's in search of family togetherness

You talkin' to me? Robert De Niro reunites with daughter Drew Barrymore in writer-director Kirk Jones's road movie

For a  while, actually, it appears as if a dollop of irony might just be on the cards, and during those passages, at least, British writer-director Kirk Jones's road movie looks poised to be quietly revolutionary. But once the dictates of convention settle in, watch out!  At the press screening attended, a fellow near me was crying what seemed to be tears brought on by the helpless laughter that accompanies mockery. One can only assume he wasn't moved.

In fact, I went fully prepared to be touched, and for a while De Niro and Jones ensure that spectators are. We've all admired this actor when he lets loose in one or another Martin Scorsese collaboration, so it's nice to be reminded how tellingly he implodes as well, those eyes hinting at all manner of sentiments that cannot be spoken.

Playing a factory employee called Frank who devoted himself double-time to work while his late wife did the family "thing", De Niro brings a haunted visage and deliberately halting manner to the cross-country reckoning chronicled in the film - a journey to the heart of a family with a hole at its centre, left by the death of the children's mother eight months before. A man who toiled in the world of communications (his factory manufactures telephone wires), Frank, predictably, can't communicate himself, an issue he decides to put right individually with each of his four kids.

And so Frank sets off, stopping first in Manhattan to visit the most troubled child, David, a painter who would seem in more ways than one not to be at home. From there, it's on to the arid, hyper-chic Illinois splendour of daughter Amy (Kate Beckinsale), a successful advertising executive with a far from satisfying home life, and then to Denver and a musician son, Robert (Sam Rockwell), who meets with Frank's disapproval not least because he smokes. Frank has Robert pegged as a symphony conductor, which turns out not quite to be the case, as each surprise visit adds to the swirl of revelations.

Zip once more goes the suitcase, and on Frank continues to Las Vegas and second daughter, Rosie (Drew Barrymore), a dancer busily engaged in her own gavotte with the truth when it comes to telling papa the details of her life. Indeed, here's one on-screen brood that keeps the phones buzzing most animatedly when there is one secret or another they want to withhold from dear unwanted dad, a kind if emotionally clamped-down man who has been doing some fancy footwork of his own. Frank's doctor, you see, has advised him not to travel, and no one - I mean no one - tells Robert De Niro what to do.

The script, of course, requires that at one point or other Frank will pay for his bravado (there's a roughly comparable "I-told-you-so" moment in The Boys Are Back), even as Everybody's Fine builds toward the climactic communal meal that is the ready-made celluloid emblem of the fractured family made whole. You might think that the director of Waking Ned Devine and even Nanny McPhee would find room for an eccentricity or two. Such surprises as exist tend to come when Frank is travelling, America being a dauntingly big place not to be able to traverse by plane (and Frank won't fly). That, in turn, leaves you wanting more of Melissa Leo and Jayne Houdyshell as just two of the people Frank encounters on his cross-country trek and rather less of the calculatedly conceived line-up of kids. (Of the three we meet, Rockwell's dark-eyed, possibly dark-souled Robert is easily the most intriguing.)

The source for Everybody's Fine is a 1990 Italian film from Giuseppe Tornatore, Stanno tutti bene, a title that itself sounds like a forgotten Mozart opera. This version of the tale, I'm afraid, is too fully indebted to formula to really sing, but when its star is seen struggling to express feelings he's never previously had to confront, hell, even this most overfamiliar of narratives acquires what Frank has left too long buried - a soul.

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