Of all the potential themes available to a story teller one that stands out as the most universally explored is the structure of the family. This is, after all, the most fundamental unit of any society and is certainly the oldest and most natural association we share. It is for these reasons that the family is the central theme of more literature and other forms of entertainment than any other conceivable plot device. One important factor is the family affords a writer with a plethora of presentations to take from light comedy to the most serious drama possible. Most of us are part of at least one family and are able to readily identify with the frivolity and foibles typically depicted in a family themed movie. One caveat that most be noted is a family themed film is not the same as a family friendly movie. Occasionally a movie that examines the relationships within a family may not be completely suitable for younger members of the family. One example of this is the film under consideration here ‘Everybody's Fine’. Although it is rated a mild PG-13 the subject matter is no conducive to the understanding of the younger set. This is not to imply that anything here can be considered obscene but this is the type of story that is best when filtered through personal experience. Younger children usually lack the years of living that this story requires. The first thing that impressed movie is the stellar cast featuring some of the best actors around today. The film does come across a tad melodramatic at times but when you think about it a moment or that real life is subject to the same tendency. This is a well designed story that is extremely dependent on the perception of the viewer. Those in their fifties and sixties will come away with a completely different story arc than a person entering their thirties.
New film maker Kirk Jones was responsible for the direction and final script. His previous experience consisted of a couple of lighter comedies; ‘Waking Ned’ and ‘Frank Nanny McPhee’. So far all of Jones’ projects have something very important in common; a delightfully skewed view of family and community. He takes this to the limit with film focusing on the natural alteration in the relationship between parent and child as the children grow into their adulthood. As mentioned the stage of life you are experiencing will drastically affect you perception of this film. From a personal vantage point I was able to greatly identify with the protagonist Frank Goode sensitively portrayed by consummate actor, Robert De Niro. In the last year I became widowed and survived a major stroke. I had to relate to my 25 year old daughter not as daddy’s little girl but as an adult. In some ways the musical theme for this story could easily have been Harry Chapin’s famous opus ‘Cat in the Cradle’. This movie depends on the gentle flow of life and permitting the audience details of the story not afforded to the participating characters.
As the film opens we see a nice suburban setting with Frank diligently at work around the house. He fills up the inflatable pool in the backyard before shopping for some expensive steaks and fine wine. He is greatly anticipating all four of his adult children coming to town for a little family reunion. Each of his kids is now busy with their own successful lives so Frank barely hears from them much. Recently their mother passed away so Frank is anxious to visit with his family. One by one they call offering one flimsy excuse after another for not coming. Frank decides to be proactive and embarks on a road trip to visit with each in turn. He has a respiratory ailment that precludes flying so Frank has to restrict his journey to trains and buses. First Frank goes to New York to visit David (Austin Lysy) who is an artist but finds that he is not at home. He leaves for his next stop, Amy (Kate Beckinsale) who is a very successful executive in an advertising firm. Frank wants to stay a few days but Amy insists the timing is not right. Next up is Robert (Sam Rockwell) who was supposed to be a famous symphony conductor but actually is a low level percussionist. The final stop is Las Vegas to visit Rosie (Drew Barrymore) who is a dancer in a big show, Frank discovers that the fancy apartment is not hers and there is a close friend, Jilly (Katherine Moennig) who brings over s baby. While Frank is traveling the audience hears the conversations between the siblings. David was arrested on drug charges in Mexico and they conspire to keep that fact from Dad. Although they were able to keep this from Dad he does manage to see through their individual deceptions. All his life Frank supported his family by coating telephone wires with PVC to protect them. Now after a lifetime and millions of feet of wire connecting people he has to struggle to communicate with his own family.
For as man who built his career as a tough guy De Niro slips into this role with the ease of donning an old pair of jeans. He brings pathos to Frank that is incredible to watch. This is a gentle role that conceals a long brewing family turmoil just below the surface. The adult children are extremely well cast with Barrymore stealing the show as Rosie. This is an amazingly well crafted, emotional journey that is a must see.