Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Everybody's Fine" Review

"Everybody's Fine." Yes, the title of the film is actually "Everybody's Fine." Excited yet? Apparently director Kirk Jones wanted to preclude the silly notion of narrative conflict upfront. While the truth may be that everybody isn't entirely fine, the title is still more than appropriate given that the world of the film is a sunny euphemism for life where good intentions reign and happiness is just a smile and an old photograph away. Even in portraying sexual solicitation or drug addiction, Jones can't help but do so with the utmost optimism. "Wanna see my legs?" a prepubescent conception of a prostitute asks a neutered Robert DeNiro. "Wanna see mine?" he quips back. Pause for effect. That's about the height of humor in this aggressively inoffensive holiday family film.

To preface, DeNiro plays Frank, a man who gets stiffed by each of his four grown children whom he's invited home for a family weekend. So, with a chip on his shoulder and against his doctor's recommendation (uh oh!), Frank sets off for a spontaneous surprise visitation circuit! The spunky old coot! His visits reveal that each of his children (Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale) has been lying to him about some major aspect of their life, and go to ridiculous lengths to sell their lies. Beckinsale as Amy invites her ex-husband over for dinner for fear of revealing their separation to her father, Rockwell as Robert is a percussionist who claims to be the conductor for an orchestra and has picked up smoking, and Barrymore as Rosie borrows a friend's Vegas flat to impress her father and suppress her lesbianism. You can't make this stuff up, folks. Somebody smashed open a pinata of cliches and "Everybody's Fine" is a God damn mad dash.

Then there's the matter of Frank's fourth child. I had wanted to spare you the tragic--No. No, it's best that you hear it from me. Poor Tom (James Frain) has gone missing from his apartment, and while his siblings bicker back and forth over what lie to tell their father, building obvious, heavy-handed tension as the film wears on, they hit a wall. Tom is dead. Sure, you never see him alive and thus form no emotional attachment, but it's sad. It's sad. He overdoses after 'buying drugs from a bar' in South America. The language regarding the incident is vague and naive, as though the writer himself can think of nothing worse than the indistinct concept of drug use. A middle-schooler could have thought of a more shocking transgression, and believe me, would love to.

However, the problems with "Everybody's Fine" far exceed its clinical detachment from engaging conflict, as it drops its toothy disposition in the final act and suddenly becomes a misguided tearjerker. Frank has a bizarre near-death experience involving his children (played in this sequence by actual children) sitting around a picnic table finally speaking truthfully about their lives. The pretension of the dialogue and the schmaltzy sentimentality of the premise make the scene downright embarrassing to watch. And as if you couldn't guess, Frank soon recovers and finally gets the holiday he's always wanted with his three, now emotionally honest children. The camera pulls away from the warmly lit dining room and Frank's voice over kicks in. Three guesses as to what the last line is.

"Everybody's Fine" is not funny, not moving, and not in the least bit original. It's troubling to see DeNiro take a film like this, as even the third-rate police dramas he's been churning out for the last decade maintain a degree of his dignity as a cinematic bad ass. Frank is just a wet noodle of a character and on the whole, "Everybody's Fine" is blisteringly uninteresting. To be fair, I suppose many big stars and great performers have received a free pass around the holidays to star in invariably shitty family films. So Merry Christmas, Robert, I hope it was worth it.


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