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Crappy Holidays

What looks like a feel-good family flick is actually pretty effing depressing

Robert De Niro is remote dad.

Everybody's Fine

Director:Kirk Jones
Cast:Robert De Niro, Kate Beckinsale, Lucian Maisel, James Frain, Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Katherine Moennig
Release Date:2009
Genre:Holiday, Black Comedy

Opens Dec. 4.

By Wendy Ward | Posted 12/2/2009

Ready for a heartwarming holiday movie filled with humorous misunderstandings, snowy pratfalls, and Norman Rockwell-styled endings wrapped up in pretty plaid bows? Look elsewhere. Everybody is not fine in Everybody's Fine, directed by Kirk Jones and marketed as a comedy although it's actually a freaking bummer. If you're the type to feel super sad at the sight of older folks eating alone, then retired and recently widowed Frank (the great Robert De Niro) is gonna hurt your heart. It's OK, not all holiday movies need to be brown sugar-sweet, but just be forewarned that if you have dad issues, bring along a sibling for an after-movie decompression over coffee.

Frank sets out to see each of his kids after they all cancel on a dinner he'd planned--the preparations of which comprise the opening and funny scenes of Frank buying a huge steak and new grill, staying up after dark in his backyard building that new grill, and grilling the huge steak on his own. It's June, which explains his Member's Only jacket. His wife (Melissa Leo in the photos) died in January, and, lonely and bored, Frank sets out to New York for a surprise visit with his artist son David.

On the train, while Frank quizzes the young woman beside him to guess the thing he's responsible for that she's been looking at through the window (spoiler alert: he laid telephone cable all his working life), a crazy older lady interrupts--and so begins two themes running through the movie like the telephone wire through the countryside: communication and old people. Frank is one of those older people who feels a hell of a lot younger than, you know, ancient people.

David's not at his apartment and Frank can't get through to him on the phone, but we hear the other kids talking (on the phone) and, it seems, druggy David is in Mexico, a fact they keep from Frank. Seems their mom was the one they talked to while Frank was the parent who did the talking. After leaving an envelope under David's door, Frank travels to Chicago to visit his successful daughter Amy (Kate Beckinsale), who lives in a modern mansion. Her honest, smartass son Jack (Lucian Maisel) and husband Tom (James Frain) join them for a meal of carry-out Chinese--seriously, Frank raised an artist and advertising whiz and doesn't know from chop sticks?--but he can't stay with them.

So he moves on to Philly for a visit with his classical musician son Robert (Sam Rockwell) and, once again, is denied real time with his kid and heads to Las Vegas to see his dancer daughter Rosie (Drew Barrymore), who finally let's him have a bed for the night. See? Totally sad. When Rosie's friend Shane--oops, Jilly (Katherine Moennig) drops by with a baby, cuteness erupts and confusion flows. The kid is whose? And Rosie likes girls? Wha?

Everybody's Fine is a fairly accurate portrayal of what happens when the kids grow up and away from a father who was emotionally absent when they were young, but needs them now that he has nothing. Guess what? Dads like that raise independent kids that learn to expect nothing much from their pops, so they really don't want or need anything. Bad timing relationship-wise, you could say.

The Giuseppe Tornatore-directed 1990 Italian movie that inspired Fine was blessed with an added layer: the dad is an opera fan whose children, all named for operatic characters, are each embroiled in situations parallel to famous opera plots. There's a wealth of fiction in this version, too.

The three kids have their own secrets and Frank isn't completely forthcoming about his medical issues, but it's hard on adult kids when they're suddenly responsible for a parent. Yes, way back when, multiple generations lived in the same household, but these days, people hope their parents grow old with someone else and when there is no one else, it can suck. All the actors in Everybody's Fine are fine; the holidays at the end of it are fine--just don't go see it with a desire to feel good.

E-mail Wendy Ward

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