Though the poster art for Everybody's Fine, depicting a grandfatherly Robert DeNiro and his three grown children smiling warmly in front of a cheery Christmas tree, is shamefully misleading, there is some truth in the advertising. Not in terms of the film; it's a manipulative guiltfest that drags its feet more sluggishly than its elderly protagonist. The truth lies in the filmmaking: Written and directed (and based on a 1990 Italian drama) by Kirk Jones, who never met a theme he can't bash over the head, Everybody's Fine trots out embarrassingly amateurish narrative tricks with a boyish grin, smugly secure in its ability to force 'awwâ?�s out of the senior set like a harmless holiday postcard.
But in his zeal to touch the hearts of the lonely, Jones (Waking Ned Devine) risks nothing, boorishly covering gaps in plot and sincerity with the laziest of cinematic spackle, like exposition through overheard phone conversations and brief flashbacks whose sole purpose is to serve as emotional cues.
DeNiro slums as Frank, a blue-collar retiree and recent widower. Frank's goal in his newfound boredom is to assemble his four grown children 'around the same tableâ?� and have a talk, but he wasn't a talkative or open father to begin with, so naturally, his children are hesitant to take him up on the offer now. After they all turn him down by answering machine, he sets out on a bus trip around the country to visit them one by one.
His kids all have their own lives to lead, and Frank understands that. But it doesn't stop him from showing up at their doorsteps to get a gauge on how they're doing, a position that puts them on the defense.
As we learn more about his kids (played by Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore and Kate Beckinsale), we discover aspects of Frank that lend credence to their arm's-distance attitudes, and the film starts to turn on him; the guilt he spends great amounts of celluloid delivering to their doors turns around and becomes his own.
It's around this time that Jones loses any grasp he had on his film, and the aimless confusion moving into the third act gives the audience time to wonder, 'Why do we care?â?� (It's a question that should send chills down any filmmaker's spine.) Instead of getting his narrative back on course, Jones retreats to the backdoor escape route of sudden crisis.
Does that get the story to the finish line? Yes, but at the expense of overloading the ending with malaise and an utterly unearned decorative bow around the package.