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.
David Callaway (Robert De Niro) is having a tough time dealing with the apparent suicide of his wife (Amy Irving). His young daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) also has taken her mother's death very hard retreating into her own little world. As a psychologist David decides the only way to help Emily is to move from the big city to a house in the country. Sure that kind of thing usually works like a charm. Emily does perk up a bit when she finds a new "friend " Charlie who likes to have fun and play hide and seek with her. Of course we can't actually see this new friend but that's beside the point. The imaginary Charlie is still a powerful force in Emily's life instructing her not to talk about him much and hating pretty much everyone else in her life including her dad. In short order bad things start happening--yes the family pet gets whacked--which Emily blames on Charlie. This leaves David wondering how his little girl could have turned so psychotic. But wait. Maybe Charlie isn't imaginary after all but actually a flesh-and-blood malevolent presence. Oh god do you think so?
Why you may ask would an acting icon like Robert De Niro star of such classic movies as Raging Bull and Goodfellas choose such a cheesy film as Hide and Seek? Very good question. Maybe he was drawn into the project based on the premise like the rest of us without realizing how derivative the story would get as things progressed. Of course De Niro plays the confused father--dealing with what could possibly be a demonic child--with a fair amount of finesse. But he's a pro that's what he does. Fanning (I Am Sam) too does the best she can as the sunken-eyed pasty-faced Emily. She sulks around rarely smiles and draws scary pictures of people dying horrible deaths which has now become a prerequisite for any child in a scary movie. In the supporting roles Elisabeth Shue Famke Janssen and Dylan Baker are all pretty much wasted. Shue who hasn't acted in anything major since 2000's Hollow Man makes a brief appearance as a potential paramour for David. Janssen (X-Men) playing David's colleague and Emily's confidante thinks living in isolation is a bad idea (and she's right!). Veteran character actor Baker (Kinsey) takes on the predictable role of the hapless town sheriff who never quite gets he's about to be in a world of hurt.
It is always disappointing when the promise of something potentially creepy turns out to possess the same old tired plot points and scare tactics seen countless times before. Director John Polson--best known for helming Swimfan another predictable stalker-gone-mad thriller--and novice screenwriter Ari Schlossberg don't have the necessary skills to take Hide and Seek above and beyond its conventional trappings. To its small credit the film does build a bit of tension in the beginning as David and Emily skirt around each other trying to grasp onto some kind of normalcy. Then when Emily introduces Charlie you continue to hold out hope that somehow the filmmakers will channel some of M. Night Shyamalan's aura and start really scaring the bejesus out of you. But alas it isn't meant to be. Instead you're sitting there pretty much guessing every move the film is going to make before it happens. When the twist finally comes around--you knew there was a twist right?--it doesn't really surprise you whether you've guess it or not.
Given that The Score's motto seems to have been "been there stole that " it's hard to imagine why it would interest the likes of De Niro Norton and Brando. Perhaps the determining factor was the prospect of working with one another. Couldn't be the rather pedestrian and obvious story and script credited to Kario Salem Lem Dobbs Scott Marshall Smith and Daniel E. Taylor which is a basic rehashing of everything from Sexy Beast to The Thomas Crown Affair. See De Niro's safecracker wants to retire and live happily ever after with main squeeze Angela Bassett. Lo and behold longtime partner-in-crime Brando offers De Niro the chance of a lifetime: steal a 16th-century French scepter from a Montreal customs house and live like a king. The catch? The inside man is the brash disrespectful and untrustworthy Norton. De Niro hates risks. Working with Norton represents a risk. Risks land you in prison he tells Norton. So naturally De Niro takes the risk we expect him to take. Too bad the risks offer little in the way of intrigue or surprise.
De Niro's cool and calm but there's little effort to make his thief anything other than an old pro out to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. Norton has the flashier role. He poses as a mildly retarded janitor to infiltrate the customs house. Cue endless scenes of Norton's Rain Man cocking his head asking the same dumb question and smiling at jokes made at his expense. Outside of the customs house he exudes cockiness impudence and a willingness to underestimate his partners. A coherent Brando still proves a distraction by constantly scratching his jutting jaw whenever he parks himself on the nearest stool. The prospect of seeing the men who won Academy Awards for portraying Don Corleone is tantalizing but the lengthy conversations between De Niro and Brando seem listless and devoid of weight. The same applies to the scenes--a disappointing two--between De Niro Norton and Brando.
The Score marks a distinct change of pace for director Frank Oz. One of the creative forces behind The Muppets Oz's post-Miss Piggy career includes such frenetic farces as Little Shop of Horrors and Bowfinger. Almost as a complete rejection of his past achievements Oz keeps The Score as po-faced and static as possible. There's no time for any humor when there's a safe to be cracked. Oz keeps the cameras trained on his cast seemingly afaird to move it in case he misses a gesture borne out of genius. Bearing this in mind everything else seems secondary. Which is how the heist feels. De Niro breaks in. We knew he would. He manages to open the safe. We knew he would. There's never a moment that doesn't feel manufactured. Even the last-minute twist feels like the comeuppance we've been expecting since De Niro first gave Norton a look of monumental disdain.