Everybody’s Fine Review: The Kids Are Alright
Well that’s what Robert De Niro is about to discover as he embarks on a country crossing road trip to visit his adult children who have all simultaneously pulled out of plans to come to Thanksgiving dinner.
And as he visits each in turn, he begins to realise that they’ve been carefully managing how much he knows about their lives.
Robert (Sam Rockwell) has told his dad that he’s a big shot conductor but he’s actually a lowly percussionist. Rosie (Drew Barrymore) is ostensibly a dancer in a hit Broadway production but she turns out to be just a waitress and Amy (Kate Beckinsale) looks to have the perfect marriage but in fact has anything but.
Worst still, David, the youngest, a struggling artist, appears not to be home at all.
If there’s anything you know when Frank first starts his road trip, it’s that he’ll discover things about himself and his family that he never knew and that everyone will learn to reevaluate their lives based on their experiences.
The problem is that we know that something’s not right with the family immediately – we’re just waiting for the next sibling to reveal exactly what their problem is.
Everybody’s Fine excels at portraying the relationships between children and parents. It’s not only his children that are complicit liars; Frank himself doesn’t tell the whole truth about his recent medical check up – something that eventually leads to a heart attack.
This is consistent with human nature: often we don’t tell the whole truth, not out of maliciousness but out of desire to protect those we care about. It’s just that sometimes a tough truth is better than an easy lie.
While in the hospital Frank has a dream in which he sees his progeny around a table as children; adults somehow never quite stop seeing their grown offspring as infants.
This dream is a useful device which allows Frank to draw conclusions from his suspicions – kids are often more upfront with what they think and lack the diplomacy that adults cultivate.
Director and writer Kirk Jones wisely makes Frank less gullible than we all think he might be – a testament to a parent’s uncanny ability to sense when things aren’t quite right – something which children often forget.
But for such a good cast, it’s a shame they’re not given more to do. Sam Rockwell showed exactly how exceptional he can be in Duncan Jones’s lo-fi sci-fi Moon recently; here he’s reduced to ten minutes of mumbled conversation with De Niro.
And the only time the cast is in the same room together is at the end of the movie – in a predictably happy families climax.
This is a perfectly adequate movie and is at times heart-warming but it’s performances never quite lift it from the well-worn furrow of its predictable narrative.