Time/place: 10:45 showing at Kaleidoscope (with Nick)
When a friend asks me how I am, I’ll tell them. When someone I’m not as close to asks how I am, I probably won’t divulge as much information with a simple (but still honest), “Fine.” What happens, though, when one’s own parents receive the same answer as strangers?
Everybody’s Fine is a beautiful and sweet little movie that covers a number of subjects, including the question I asked above. To start with, this is the Robert De Niro I’ve been waiting to see for a while. He’s playing his age, but in a sweet and lovable way… as opposed to something like Meet The Parents. This movie actually reminded me a great deal of Harry and Tonto, which I saw recently but was unimpressed with. Everybody’s Fine, though, I absolutely loved, and a chunk of that adoration belongs to the acting ability of Robert De Niro. Of course, I love the fella playing his son, too – Sam Rockwell. Though everyone in the movie did a wonderful job with their roles, Sam had the chance to play a little offense with De Niro, and he succeeds with that opportunity. On a side note, for anyone who happens to remember the kid from Welcome to the Dollhouse and Empire Records (he was the little thief in that one), keep an eye out. I spotted him when I saw him, but now that he’s older I wasn’t sure it was him. He’s a great actor now, and his scene is pretty chilling because of it.
I have to be honest, though… I can’t be too subjective about this movie. We all take our experiences into the theater with us, and my viewing partner and I were no different with Everybody’s Fine. Not very often can you find two straight guys sitting in a theater drying their eyes at the end of a movie, but such was the case today (thanks for making him a softy, Salter). While our reasons are different, the two of us can be counted on getting smacked in the heart when a movie’s subject matter revolves around one thing more than any other – dads. Heck, in my last post I mentioned mine, and it’s a subject I have never shied away from. What didn’t help me any, either, is the fact that in this movie De Niro nearly completely reminds me of my dad both physically and in how he acts. I won’t go into specifics, neither here or in the detailed section below, but this similarity was there for me from the very beginning. (Ed. – Okay, I actually did go into specifics in the detailed review, but I didn’t plan to. Count it catharsis) Remember that example I gave before about brushing your parents off as strangers with a “Fine” ? Yeah… I do that with mine, especially my dad. It added a great deal of weight to most of the scenes, and there is no way for me to disconnect that. I can say, however, that I still think the movie is completely strong on its own account – 100%.
While this is a remake of an Italian movie, the director Kirk Jones has a wonderful history of making great, sweet movies (Waking Ned Devine, and Nanny McPhee), and I love what he did with this one. Everybody’s Fine isn’t schlocky or bland, but is instead filled with genuine characters, both minor and major, and feels like a real story plucked right out of somebody’s life. It just happens to be one of the lovely ones ;).
Everybody’s Fine is just very simply: good. It was real and hilarious (I laughed out loud a couple of times, a VERY rare thing for me in theaters), touching and inviting, and I hope that any of you who see it enjoy it as much as I did. Family isn’t perfect, and neither is life, but if you learn from your mistakes and try… it’ll be just fine.
Warning: There be spoilers below…
Oh, Robert De Niro. Very often the general public likes to place actors into simple categories and leave them there. It’s just simpler that way… Gary Oldman is a crazy villain, Harrison Ford is “cool”, and Robert De Niro is the tough guy. These are actors, though, and I’m able to enjoy them that way. De Niro does things in Everybody’s Fine that make me smile simply for the joy of watching another actor do something clever. From a performance point of view, he’s just very engaging to watch. While playing golf with his grandson, I laughed out loud long and hard as he muttered his swear words with each failed shot. Even now I can make myself chuckle just thinking about it. His reaction to the news of his son’s death is painful, gradual, and real. I love watching nothing more than an actor’s reaction to a baby or toddler – for me it’s a great definition of their skills. Children at that age aren’t aware that they’re supposed to be acting, so it takes the responsibility of the adult to react appropriately. Brando did it in The Godfather, Day-Lewis did it in There Will Be Blood, and now De Niro has also done it in this movie.
Throughout the entire picture, it was hard to watch anything else on the screen but him – and that’s quite a feat considering who else was in this movie:
Okay, okay… Sam Rockwell was in the movie, too. The conversation he and De Niro have in the concert hall alone sent shivers down my spine. While Rockwell plays a character with certain similarities to myself, De Niro WAS my dad in this scene – even down to the way he leaned on the railing as he spoke. In fact, I wasn’t going to mention the similarities, but for how personal this story was for me, I can’t help but talk about a few things. My dad is older, now, mid-sixties, though he’s generally thought to be younger. From time to time, though, he shows his age. Last year, he was sick for about a week, and spent most of the time sleeping in his recliner. One day I walked down to get something from the kitchen and I saw him there… a frail old man. The gray and white has mostly taken over the black in his hair, his face was relaxed as he slept with the wrinkles and creases in his face remaining, and I couldn’t help but feel sympathy. I didn’t grow up in a horrible childhood, nor was it saintly, and because of it I now have a great distance between me and my family – my dad especially. De Niro’s character is so lovable in this movie as a sweet old guy that it’s easy to forget that perhaps he was a little rough on his kids when they were growing up, but he tried. He and my dad have that in common, and to see this very real representation of my dad’s upcoming days of being an old man, and his attempt to rebuild his relationship with his kids (the sons, especially, both of which combine into a person I find great similarities with)… it broke my heart on a continual basis throughout the movie. The ending was both hope and caution, though – one son is able to rekindle with his dad and they share a great Christmas together… probably like they did years ago, but the other son is dead, never able to reestablish that relationship. While I took it very personally, Everybody’s Fine does a fantastic job of reminding some of us that we’re all on borrowed time, and that we shouldn’t wait to strive for the relationships we’re missing. Of course, I certainly didn’t mean to get into all of THAT… geeze.
So, ahem.. back to the movie ;). This is a road trip movie, which is one of my favorite genres when it’s done right. Everybody’s Fine certainly does it right. We follow De Niro on his trek to reach his 4 kids, and along the way we’re treated to scenarios that let us know more about him and to characters that are fantastic and memorable. “Rocks?” One of my favorite elements came from that first train ride scene (not to mention the very grandpa-ish way he tries to get the gal to guess his former job), and that was of the telephone wires. Throughout the entire movie the wires are a constant as they pop up between scenes and as transitional shots. They mean so much. They are an obvious representation of communication, that his kids share with each other but not with him. They are also sort of like the lead character, himself… a symbol of his life. His telephone lines now stretch all over the country, as do his children, yet he knows so little about them, unlike his wife. So now, after his wife’s death, De Niro is forced to approach his kids for connection in a different way than he normally would have before… so he doesn’t call, but instead goes to each one in person for a surprise. This all comes to a point with his dead son’s painting. That De Niro’s character be represented by wires of communication is a fantastic symbolic layer, and what began as a simple little mention in a comedic scene concludes with a freakin’ heart-string tugger.
From beginning to end, I loved Everybody’s Fine, both as a moviemaker and an audience member. Fantastic job, folks :).