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Another happy reunion? (l-r) DeNiro and Barrymore in Everybody’s Fine.

Meet the Children

By Ann Morrow

Everybody’s Fine

Directed by Kirk Jones

‘I want to be with you by Christmas,” says Frank Goode (Robert DeNiro). No one answers, because he’s alone in his living room. Frank has just returned from a long trip to visit each of his four children, and the wish he expresses is a poignant reminder of why he went on the trip. In Everybody’s Fine, DeNiro plays a widowed, and much-mellowed blue-collar father whose children are hiding a secret from him. The film has fleeting moments of real emotion, most of them from DeNiro, but director Kirk Jones’ adaptation of the 1991 Italian film by Giuseppe Tornatore is more contrived than the original, and it pounds down on a single theme for its entirety.

Frank’s first stop is to see his artist son, David, but David isn’t at home, and isn’t answering his phone. Frank’s next stop is with Amy (Kate Beckinsale), a successful ad exec who is too busy to let Frank stay for more than a day. He then travels to see his son Robert (Sam Rockwell), and is disappointed to learn that Robert is not a symphony conductor, but a percussionist. Robert also gives him short shrift, telling his father he has to leave for a European tour. Frank’s daughter Rosie (Drew Barrymore), a Vegas dancer, is more welcoming, inviting her father to stay a few days in her palatial apartment, but Frank senses that Rosie is not being truthful with him about her living arrangements, and he leaves early.

What Frank learns from each of them is that they were so accustomed to talking openly only with their mother, who taught them to hide any problems from their father, that they can’t be honest with him—especially about anything that might be a diminishment of his ambitions for them. What Frank doesn’t know is that their not-uncommon problems are not the worst of what they’re not telling him. Frank reciprocates by understating his own problems.

As he traverses the country by bus, train, and plane, Frank has a variety of mostly clichéd encounters with other travelers. It’s a treat to see DeNiro, 66, play an older—and rapidly becoming wiser—father figure, but his laid-back persona can carry the story only so far. The only familial sparks that fly are between him and Rockwell, and, even more briefly, a middle-age lady truck driver who gives him a lift and an interlude of genuine empathy. The director’s sentimental device of having Frank still see his children in his mind as they used to be (when they actually were young children), pays off with a mental encounter during which he confronts each of them with the truth that he’s learned through observation and parental intuition. The film’s happy ending—it is, after all, a Christmas film—isn’t a sellout, considering the plot begins with the kind of tragedy that often does bring a family closer together, but by the end, some in the audience may be wishing that that the tougher and funnier father DeNiro played in Meet the Parents had made the trip instead.

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