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ebody fine_12495064517364.jpg

Trains, Planes, and Weeping Jags

By Dustin Rowles | Film | December 4, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | December 4, 2009 |

Robert DeNiro’s Everybody’s Fine is not exactly as the adverts portend. I’d expected a movie about a doddering, lonely old widower whose family stood him up for a holiday trip, so he decided to travel the country and surprise his children, learn they weren’t the people he was led to believe, and come to terms with their lives while realizing something important about himself. Then, everybody would wind up together over Christmas dinner and the movie would be wrapped up in a nice basket of mirth and fuzzies and old folks would leave the theater exclaiming, “What a cute little movie! I’ve got to tell Sylvia about that one. And isn’t DeNiro so charming?”

I think the blue hairs might want to check their expectations a bit, because while the first half of Everybody’s Fine is exactly as advertised, the third act delivers a melodramatic, overly wrought, heinously sentimental right hook that will plant you on your ass, stand over your crippled body, and taunt you like a fourth and two in Patriots territory. And if you dare cry — if you dare give in to this driveling bilge — then Everything is Fine will kick you in the sternum, pull your hair, and sit on you like a naked fat man on a mouse. This movie has a wicked fucking Steel Magnolias edge that is completely at odds with the rest of the movie. The extent it works depends largely on your susceptibility to movie manipulation, because Everybody’s Fine pulls out all the stops, reaches into your chest cavity and plays your heartstrings like a violent drunk trying to make time with a viola. It’s not pretty, but if you’re weak willed, it’ll probably do the trick.

If you cry, no one will think less of you, as long as you feel appropriately ashamed of yourself afterwards.

DeNiro plays Frank Goode, retired from a job where he sheathed a million miles of electrical wire. His wife died eight months prior, so he’s left home alone, bored in his garden. When his four kids abruptly back out of a planned trip to see him, Frank — who has a medical condition that precludes flying — travels by bus, train, and even 18-wheeler to see his children. He first visits David, his youngest, in New York, who isn’t at home, and through private telephone conversations between his other three children, we learn that he’s been arrested in Mexico. Next up is Amy (Kate Beckinsale), who tries to keep her crumbling marriage a secret from Frank before sending him off to Robert (Sam Rockwell), who is somewhat embarrassed to reveal that he’s not the conductor of an orchestra, as Frank thought, but a percussionist. Next, he travels to Las Vegas to see Rosie (Drew Barrymore), a dancer, who aims to keep her sexual identity a secret from her father.

Having lost his heart medication in a mugging, Frank resorts to flying back home, which is where Everybody’s Fine jumps the rails and tries to cross a lake in a train caboose. Kirk Jones, working off his own adaptation of Giuseppe Tornatore’s Italian film Stanno Tutti Bene, lets loose the reigns of this sweet but meandering family film, and drives it into the ground with a lousy twist. I haven’t seen the Italian version, but I could see it working a little better if the first two acts didn’t have such a heartwarming family-film vibe, but it’s insanely left field in Jones’ version.

It’s clear, too, that after Jones shipwrecks the movie with that achingly false turn, that he wants to salvage the original tone, but it’s too late and too much destruction has already been made of what was an otherwise mostly bland film anyway. DeNiro is getting a fairly good reception for his performance, but I wasn’t even particularly impressed with it — it works only to the extent that he’s playing against type, but he’s been playing against type for so long now that even that’s lost its effectiveness. Sam Rockwell is lost in a small role way beneath him, while Beckinsale and Barrymore are little more than adequate and the the extreme close-ups do neither of them any favors.

I would’ve been content enough, I suppose, with a predictable feel-good holiday movie, but Everybody’s Fine can’t even settle for simple predictability. Instead, it reaches for a knockout blow, and ends up flailing to the ground, knocking itself out on the toilet seat on the way down. Everybody’s Fine is a holiday turd left to float cause nobody bothered to jiggle the handle.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.