The idea that movies are often sold to audiences as one thing, quite separate from the actual tone or plot of a film, is hardly new but the practice really hits a low with Everybody’s Fine. A study of a widowed father, Frank Goode (Robert De Niro) trying to re-connect with his adult children, it is an average film at best, but Miramax clearly had the least faith in it of all, marketing it as a wacky road-movie comedy. The poster for the film, which is an abomination, suggests a light-hearted, Meet-the-Parents style romp.
What you actually get is a more serious film than you’re led to believe and though it has many flaws, it also contains one of De Niro’s better performances in recent years. After the death of his wife, Goode realises he has drifted away from his four children, who have all left home and are now spread out across America. After they all bail on a planned get-together, he decides to travel to meet each one individually.
The success of these father-child portrayals on screen is mixed. Only Sam Rockwell as Frank’s son Robert truly convinces, with a genuine sense of awkwardness and unspoken regrets when the two meet on screen. Kate Beckinsale (Amy) and Drew Barrymore (Rosie), on the other hand, are given little to flesh their characters out with and the film can become quite bland as the characters trade pleasantries.
Surprisingly, the jokes are actually few and far between and when they do arrive, rarely successful in a script which tends towards the mawkish. One of the film’s main devices (that Frank often sees his children as though they were still young) fails to hit the right notes as well and means that a final revelation scene doesn’t have the emotional power it should have.
Where the film is most successful is in De Niro’s performance in which he gives up on trying to recapture the anger and intensity of his younger roles, and instead gives an accurate portrayal of an out-of-step, bumbling father. It’s not a particularly memorable character but that almost seems part of the point, as he has subsumed his personality for so many years whilst allowing his wife to do the parenting. When he breaks down near the end of the film, only the most hardened will not be moved.