‘Everybody’s Fine’ falls off at end

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Roger Moore

Everybody’s Fine is a
quiet, light study in family dysfunction, a comedy-drama with no heroes or
villains, just sad people who aren’t necessarily telling the truth when
somebody asks them, “Are you happy?”

That’s become an important question to Frank Goode (Robert
DeNiro), a lonely, widowed retiree whose four adult children won’t make the
time to visit now that Mom has died. Frank’s life was spent at the grindstone —
coating telephone and electrical cables, something he’s proud to point out on
telephone poles to strangers. That’s because those miles and miles of cable and
the lung disease Frank got from the work put his kids in a position to do more
interesting things for a living. “A lotta cable,” he says of this
one’s orchestral career or that one’s designer home.

Frank resolves to drop in on each of the four — surprise
visits. They tell him “everybody’s fine” on those rare occasions he
gets each of them on the phone. But he wants the truth

Kirk Jones’ (Nanny McPhee) movie never finds a tone that it’s comfortable with as Frank
amusingly bores fellow train and bus travelers with tales of his work and his
family. Fellow retirees commiserate on kids who don’t appreciate the sacrifice
the parents had to make to get them where they are. Contrast that with each visit
to his offspring — Kate Beckinsale in Chicago, Drew Barrymore in Las Vegas, Sam
Rockwell in Denver. Dad observes what the kids might have once told Mom, but
not him.

“I tell you the good news and spare you the bad,”
Amy (Beckinsale) says, and the others, in turn, echo that. The movie has one
open secret and a few “reveals” — including the kids’ efforts to
solve problems involving the sibling we don’t meet.

The patient pace and subtle disappointment the kids feel
about their lives, disappointment that they worry will be shared by Dad, makes
for a movie of no cathartic confrontations. A contrived and melodramatic third
act seems out of character and abrupt. And truthfully, there’s little novel
about the story of an aged parent trying to right the wrongs of his
child-rearing years.

But DeNiro, leaving his Meet the Parents comic ogre persona to Ben Stiller, makes Frank a man
we neither pity nor blame, a gruff dad who remembers his stern past with a
wince. His winning, thoughtful performance and matching work from those cast as
his kids (each lifting his or her game) make this remake of Guiseppe
Tornatore’s 1990 Italian dramedy a tolerably sober alternative to holiday froth
at the mutliplex.

Everybody’s Fine

2 1/2 stars

Cast: Robert DeNiro, Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell, Kate
Beckinsale

Director: Kirk Jones

Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes

Industry rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief
strong language

Roger Moore writes for the Orlando Sentinel. Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.