What is about dysfunctional families that are so attractive to us? For me, as I am certain for many of you, it’s because we relate, because we are at times mired in it. I think most of us are the products of, or participants in, familial dysfunction. And not that that’s always a bad thing. It certainly isn’t when it comes to EVERYBODY’S FINE, Kirk Jones’ remake of Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 “Stanno Tutti Bene”. For me, this is one film that resonates so close to home, so much so that my heart aches watching it, but in a good way. You could lift my entire family and insert it in place of the characters in the film. Thankfully, Kirk Jones didn’t make that fatal mistake but instead called upon the impeccably perfect Robert DeNiro along with Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore and Sam Rockwell to hold up a mirror to each of us and then instill more guilt than a Jewish mother with every adult child out there (I would say parents will be guilted as well but I don’t think pigs are flying yet.) The result is a beautiful and touching portrait of a family trying to reconnect physically and emotionally and make “everybody fine.”
Recently widowed and retired, Frank Goode has a seemingly idyllic life. Going through the motions of what is obviously a lifelong routine, but for going to work at the same job for 50 years, Frank lives alone in his large suburban house, his children all grown and moved away. The house is clean. He seems content. But something is missing. That something is not only his wife, but the lifeline that she provided him as the conduit for communicating with his children, much like the telephone wires he spent his entire life coating with PVC. Realizing that it’s now up to him to reach out and touch his children, and perhaps feeling his own mortality, Frank decides to have a family get together and reel the kids back home. Sparing no expense, but looking for a bargain at every turn, Frank goes all out with food, wine and a new backyard grill. Unfortunately, one by one, three of his four children call, feigning work and other events as reasons that they have to cancel, yet all the while insisting “everybody’s fine”, just as Frank tells each of them about himself, a choice that will come to haunt him.
Disappointed and at a loss, Frank determines to see each of his children and bring them all together as a family. Unable to fly due to work related illness, Frank sets out on a cross-country train trip, starting first in New York with son David. An artist, he is the one child Frank has been unable to reach, and as the story unfolds, we quickly realize David’s siblings know why but are keeping it from Frank. Not finding David at home, Frank moves on to Chicago and his daughter Amy. A successful ad executive, Amy has what appears to be a perfect house, perfect marriage, perfect (albeit bratty) son, but no time for Frank and quickly hustles him out after one night. Sensing something isn’t right, despite the repeated exclamations of “everybody’s fine”, Frank nevertheless says nothing and moves on to see his son Robert, a musician who has found a home for himself as conductor for a philharmonic. Or has he. Surprising Robert, Frank learns that Robert is not the conductor, but rather a drummer. Outwardly disappointed that Robert is “only” a musician and not a conductor, Frank’s eyes begin to open as he starts to see his son for maybe the first time in his life, as being happy with himself and what he’s doing, and not trying to continually live up to Frank’s expectations. But, like Amy, Robert makes an excuse that the orchestra is leaving town and Frank can’t stay and visit, sending Frank to Las Vegas to see his little girl, Rosie, a lead dancer in a big show. But things don’t go quite as planned and on Frank’s way to Vegas he finds himself stranded and mugged. Undeterred, he continues on his journey, not calling any of his children to tell of his plight. Arriving in Vegas, Frank is wowed by Rosie’s amazing apartment and obvious success, that is until he hears her answering machine. Again, having another illusion about his children shattered, Frank says nothing and heads home, this time surprising everyone by flying, a decision that he may live to regret.
From the moment Robert DeNiro appears on screen and this story begins to unfold, all I can see is my own father. Each nuance, each deliberate movement and task. It’s like watching my father on screen, complete with the hand mower, green garden hose, wanting the kids all around the table together, the shoes, the short sleeved East Coast shirts, the Members Only jacket…and having a suitcase, not knowing it rolls until his grandson tells him. DeNiro gives the most understated performance of his career which is what makes it one of his finest. He is “such a dad.” Touching is the rote loneliness that he exudes with his wife gone compounded by the perfunctory requisite response to everything – “everything’s fine; everybody’s fine.” Despite his emotional distance from his children, he tacitly conveys his love for them, a credit that also goes to Kirk Jones’ script.
For the creation of Frank, the minutia is amazing. The shoes, the jacket, the singularity of using one plate and immediately washing it, picking pills up off the ground, saving money at the store – it’s these little things that immediately tell you who Frank is – a depression era child who grew up to labor and work hard, knows the value of money, works hard to support his family and give his children the benefits of his hard work – and still continues with his one mindset of keeping busy, saving money, but now wanting to take the time to know and understand his children for himself, albeit initially out of guilt as mom is gone and it’s now “his job”. Such a well written and well acted role, I can see no one but DeNiro filling these shoes.
Although clearly DeNiro’s showcase, not to be overlooked are Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore. As “Daddy’s Little Girl” Rosie, Barrymore is charming and sweet. Beckinsale’s Amy is confident but frazzled, playing into the role and adding dimension to the familial structure. But as Robert, Sam Rockwell amazes with his balancing act of confident security in the life he has but still embarrassed and shy and fearful around dad. A key character whom we do not get to meet is David, the missing sibling, the black sheep, living under the guise of “everything’s fine” and pressure to be perfect and not disappoint. David’s very absence is a character unto itself.
I am a fan of Kirk Jones work, not only here, but with his work on the fantastical “Nanny McPhee” and his indelible Absolut Vodka commercials, appreciating his diversity and creativity and attention to story and character development. Although adapted from Massimo del Rita’s original screenplay, Jones makes this story is so true to life and the characters so real. A key difference between del Rita’s script and Jones’ is that here, DeNiro’s character comes to accept each of his children for who they are, as well as accepting the lifelong truths that were kept from him. There is nothing fictitious about the emotion of this film. It is rooted in life and in love because ultimately the rote “everybody’s fine” is done out of love. Not wanting to worry anyone. Wanting to be “an adult” and handle everything yourself. Wanting to a strong parent and not concern your kids. Particularly effective is Jones’ scripting as to Frank’s profession and the interlacing of the PVC coated phone lines that Frank made and that now connect the world and connect Frank with his children and his children to each other. Great tie in. The one element that keeps them together, also keeps them geographically apart.
Henry Braham, who worked with Jones on “Nanny McPhee” and “Waking Ned”, provides cinematography that is crisp and clean. For the most part lensed in Connecticut and New York, Braham’s visuals provide a clarity that not only showcases the locales’ natural beauty, but serves as a perfect counter part to familial secrets and the whole idea of “being in the dark”. Andrew Jackness’ production design really goes far in establishing each individual story and persona.
The icing on the cake, Sir Paul McCartney’s title song. Feeling perhaps more than a kinship with the character of Frank and calling EVERYBODY’S FINE a “fabulous, quite emotional, good family movie”, McCartney was “inspired” by Frank, thus leading him to write and perform “(I Want to) Come Home”. His fourth title track for a film, can Oscar nod again on Sir Paul? One can only hope as it doesn’t get any finer than this.
Described by Jones as a film about a family, based in reality and observation, EVERYBODY’S FINE strikes a harmonious balance between serious emotion and humor. This is life. This is family. And yes, EVERYBODY’S FINE, just fine.
Frank – Robert DeNiro
Amy – Kate Beckinsale
Rosie – Drew Barrymore
Robert – Sam Rockwell
Directed by Kirk Jones. Written by Kirk Jones based on original screenplay by Massimo del Rita.