When Everybody’s Fine was theatrically released, a mere two months ago, it was sold as a heartwarming Christmas tale, a yuletide log you and your family could crowd around and bask in it's warmness. Of course they were hoodwinking us as what they were actually selling was a duller, sappier It’s a Wonderful Life, a common-stock family drama that happens to take place in the month of December but lacks any other holiday spirit. Still movie stars, including Robert DeNiro in the lead, found this snoozer to be worth their time so we’re going to go ahead and assume that he walked away from this mess with a handsome chunk of change.
The plot structure owes a lot to the likes of Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, the Bill Murray vehicle from a few years ago, only this time around the trip feels mechanical, as though it had been made by and for people who have no love for cinema. DeNiro plays Frank, a success obsessed widower who has his Christmas dinner spoiled when all four of his kids, who are spread out across the country, cancel on him almost simultaneously. So he ignores the advice of his doctor and hops on a bus and sets out on an adventure to visit each one of them. Don’t worry it looks just as strained as it sounds.
After striking out in New York with his son David he heads out west and meets up with his daughter Amy (Kate Beckinsale) and her family. She has a high powered advertising job (all of his kids have glamour jobs which are predictable on more than one level) and seems off put and disturbed by his visit throughout. This along with phone conversations between the kids that we are privy to tips us off to the fact that writer/director Kirk Jones has something other than old fashioned feel goodery brewing.
Frank’s journey continues and next up on his agenda is Robert (Sam Rockwell) in Denver followed by Rosie (Drew Barrymore) in Vegas. Both of them, like Amy, are constantly on the go and seem to have absolutely no time for the man who spent his life laying electrical wire just so that they could have the opportunities that landed them in their overly comfortable lives. Perhaps it could have something to do with the dark family secret they are working hard to keep from Frank that revolves around some sort of trouble David has landed in down in Mexico.
Eventually the film takes a few unexpected turns that jumpstarts the action and the audience. First, Frank gets held up by a strung-out junkie on a subway platform and in the process his lung medication is destroyed thus placing him under a deadline to get home to his doctor. Then Jones keeps it up as he enters the final half hour with his gloves off and surprisingly delivers a few body blows that have enough oomph behind them to knock the wind out of you. This came as a shock to us because up until that point the film had been comatose, an apathetic slacker squatting in front of our eyeballs.
If Jones is grinding an ax, and a case could easily be made, then his art is a push back against those parents who micromanage their kids lives into oblivion in the pursuit of wealth and status. When Frank discovers that Robert is only a concert percussionist and not a conductor he launches into a lecture about how much talent he has and how he could be something special if he just applied himself. Every middle class kid since the beginning of time has heard that speech yet when it is placed up on screen it seems even more absurd than usual. Mainly because this type of parent will never understand that being special isn’t for everyone.
In this case the byproduct of that pressure is a tidal wave of white lies meant to appease the patriarch but only, really, drowning the love this family shares. And even if currently society favors overbearing parents Jones has done his part as a conscientious objector. Sadly it comes in the form of anemic entertainment. If his point was to prove that it is OK to be mediocre then he has succeeded, but to do so he had to sacrifice his audience and produce something that, at its best, feels like a Hallmark Original.
DVD Special Features:
Deleted/Extended Scenes and the making of the music video for Paul McCartney's featured song "(I Want To) Come Home."
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale
Director: Kirk Jones
Writer: Kirk Jones
Runtime: 99 minutes
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