Who’s fine? No one really but we all knew that right? Where does politeness stop and uncomfortable truth begin and what are the considerations we make before burdening someone with the unvarnished truth? Everybody’s Fine ponders these things in a somber and intelligent way that belies its generic holiday movie poster.
Robert De Niro plays Frank an aging widower who spends his lonely days keeping his empty nest tidy and its surrounding foliage immaculate in the way the retired tend to do. He feels intensely the absence of his four grown-up children since the recent death of his wife and when they all back out of a planned holiday gathering at the family home he decides to pack up his bag and travel across the country to see each one as a surprise. As he goes from home to home he begins to realize some uncomfortable truths about the relationship he has with them and even worse that there’s a bigger secret they’re all hiding.
This is a remake of a 1990 Italian film Stanno Tutti Bene the follow-up to director Giuseppe Tornatore’s triumphant Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner Cinema Paradiso. The American interpretation is written and directed by Kirk Jones who previously showed a knack for arty yet accessible films with Waking Ned Devine which like Everybody’s Fine manages to successfully navigate that oh-so-thin line between saccharine sentimentality and genuine emotional resonance. Unlike Devine Everybody’s Fine has no comedic spoonful of sugar to make the discomfort of an all-too-real family dynamic go down.
De Niro’s portrayal of Frank comes almost as a relief. After a lifetime of loud and brusque characters he settles into the retiree part like a comfortable old pair of slippers. Frank is easily as conflicted as any other person De Niro has played but in a much quieter way -- a dad sorta way. De Niro so entirely and naturally becomes Frank that it’s hard not to project your own feelings toward your father onto him. And I suppose that is the point.
Frank’s children are played by Kate Beckinsale Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore who are given just enough development to explain their estrangement from their father -- but that’s all the roles require. They’re loosely defined enough for the audience to hopefully identify with at least one of them but only in the service of laying familial guilt at our own feet. It’s De Niro's eyes the audience sees through; it’s his movie and he owns it.
Everything eventually leads to that question of whether or not to trouble the ones we love with our bad news. Everybody’s Fine is relatively taciturn with its conclusions but offers an important suggestion to consider the matter more closely in the audience’s own lives. And isn’t that what good art should do? This may not be the most uplifting film one could see this holiday season but it is one of the more thoughtful ones. Between the simple effectiveness of De Niro’s performance the lovely cinematography of Henry Braham (it is sort of a road-trip movie) and the interesting questions it raises Everybody’s Fine is a terrific choice for those who want something more in-depth from their Xmas viewing than tinsel and tired sentimentality.
Nanny McPhee captures a lot of the same magic as Poppins --but without songs about spoonfuls of sugar and flying kites. McPhee starts with some very naughty children--seven of them in fact who led by the oldest boy Simon (Thomas Sangster) have managed to drive away 17 previous nannies You see the children recently lost their beloved mother so they take great offense to being looked after by a nanny. Their father Mr. Brown (Colin Firth) a nice enough fellow is at wits end coupled by the fact his rich Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) is pressuring him to marry again--or she’ll cut him off. If there was ever a need for Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) this is it. She arrives warts and all and the children soon notice that their vile behavior now leads swiftly and magically to rather startling consequences. Leave it to Emma Thompson to throw vanity to the wind and give one of her more appealing performances in a long while. Nanny McPhee is a woman of few words conveying her point by either staring one directly in the eye or planting her magical cane squarely on the ground. And boy is she ugly--unless of course you start obeying her five simple rules. Then her appearance mysteriously changes. What fun for Thompson. The kids are also entirely adorable even when they are throwing food around or calling each other “bum!” The standout is Sangster (Love Actually) as the ringleader. Lansbury who makes her first feature film appearance in two decades is deliciously over the top as the domineering Adelaide while Firth as the hapless widower and Kelly MacDonald (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) as the Brown’s sweet scullery maid add that loving touch. Not only is Thompson brilliant on screen she has lent her significant talents behind the scenes as well by writing Nanny McPhee. She hasn’t written anything since she won her Academy Award for her stellar adaptation of Sense and Sensibility but it’s very clear Thompson still has a keen story sense. Based on the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand the actress crafts an engaging witty and yes even a little dark fable which is only enhanced by solid direction from Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine). This isn’t your ordinary Mary Poppins but more a magical nanny story for the Harry Potter generation. There are times the film lapses into silliness--usually when dealing with tricking the adults--but there are more moments of pure imagination and touching sentiments. Nanny McPhee is just a lot of fun for the whole family.