The success of Everybody’s Fine is determined solely by the performance of its lead, Robert De Niro. He plays Frank Goode, a recent retiree who spends most of the movie travelling around well-known parts of the United States, hoping to get to spend time with his now fully grown children. Almost the entire film has him in-frame, and any and all tension comes solely from the way his character is portrayed. Thankfully, this is Robert De Niro we’re talking about, so we’re bound to get a good performance.
We open the film watching Frank complete a series of household chores; he cuts the grass, puts together the barbecue and he vacuums his house. While shopping, we learn that he’s planning to have his four children over for dinner, a rare occasion as they’ve grown up to have successful lives after moving away from home. After getting everything together, he checks his messages and learns that none of his children will be able to visit.
He visits his doctor to find out if he’s healthy enough to travel. He isn’t. He has to take pills daily in order to keep his lungs from giving out on him. Regardless, he decides to go visit each one of his children — as a surprise — in order to make himself feel better. He’s lonely, as far as we can tell, and he wants to make sure that his children are happy with their lives. Even though the title is “Everybody’s Fine“, this is sadly not the case.
Each time he visits one of his children, we discover that not everything’s right with their situation. He travels first to New York to visit David, but he isn’t at home. Next, he travels to see Amy (Kate Beckinsale), who seemed to have lied in order to stop Frank from coming to visit her. He finds his other son, Robert (Sam Rockwell), who lied to him about being the conductor of a band. Finally, he travels to Las Vegas to find out that his other daughter, Rosie (Drew Barrymore) is borrowing — not renting — her apartment. But he doesn’t say anything, and we question whether or not he’s ignorantly blissful, or if he’s holding everything inside.
De Niro plays this part perfectly. He’s unassuming, kind, charming and always leaves us questioning how much he really knows. This performance leaves us constantly intrigued as to what will happen when — or if — he finds out, if he already hasn’t. The other actors do a fine job, but they’re completely overshadowed and overmatched when coming face-to-face with De Niro.
Since we saw that Frank has a lung problem, (it’s supposedly due to working in a factory making PVC-covered power lines), we can only assume that, at some point, this issue will come up. To an extent, it does. But, and this is one of the biggest problems I had, it isn’t his lungs that come into play. It’s a completely different health issue that easily could have been linked to his lungs, but one bit of dialogue ruins this, making his lung issue a moot point.
The other major issue I had delves deeply into spoiler territory, but suffice to say that Everybody’s Fine concludes far too quickly and easily. Sure, it has depth and emotional significance, but characters change their direction without enough reason or time. They completely switch around their attitudes, which takes away some of the emotional significance.
There’s also an issue with pacing, in that, for a drama, there isn’t enough time devoted to each visit. Frank spends somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes at each of his children’s homes, but it doesn’t seem like enough. We don’t get to know his children well, which means that if something bad were to happen, it wouldn’t matter. But then again, Frank is constantly being lied to, so maybe this was intentional and part of the point. On the other hand, doing something that detracts from how well you can relate to the characters, if it hampers the film, is still not a good decision even if it is on purpose.
Despite these complaints, Everybody’s Fine is still a very touching film. Gloomy, possibly, but of a movie makes you feel a strong emotion, even one of sorrow, it’s done a good job. It’s just that it easily could have been better had it taken its time to better develop its secondary characters and give us a better understanding of their position, because then if something comes up that warrants our sympathy, we have more reason to care.
While it has its fair share of problems, Everybody’s Fine is still a good movie. It could have easily been better, but its issues are generally overcome by the strong performances and touching story. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but a successful film will make you feel something. That’s the case here, and whether it’s joy or sorrow that you feel, you’ll likely not be bored. There are heartwarming moments, somber moments as well as parts that will make you laugh. But everything you feel will stem from the amazing performance turned in by Robert De Niro.