Sunday, January 31, 2010

Everybody's Fine

Are You?

Based upon the 1990 Italian film Stanno Tutti Bene, Kirk Jones' Everybody's Fine follows up the very fine contemporary films that had gone past which dealt with the aged and their families, such as Last Chance Harvey starring Dustin Hoffman, and Away from Her starring Gordon Pinsent. Everybody's Fine would work fine as a Thanksgiving or Christmas movie given its theme on the family, but I suppose having a release right about now would be apt as well given the upcoming festive period of the Lunar New Year which has the reunion dinner component, to take stock once again of the ties that bind.

There are many aspects to this film that I enjoyed, first and foremost that this is a road movie. I've somehow an affinity toward road movies, in accompanying the character in his journey spanning a finite distant in whatever quest that he embarks on, on whichever decision that he'll make, and the many random encounters with people, some good and bad, which at the end of it all will shape his outlook for the better or worse. While it didn't deliberately pause and turn into a scenic, touristy ride, which I am thankful for and in the hands of lesser directors it will almost be a pimping of the locations, it did enough to flavour the cities that our protagonist journeys to, from New York to Chicago to Denver and all the way West toward Las Vegas.

I wonder how many of us out there have dads like Frank, played by Robert De Niro. As the film develops I'm pretty sure his father role falls into the mould of how dads are generally perceived, hence his decision to want to reconnect back directly with his children, who Nature has determined that they connect to him through a proxy, and now that his wife has recently passed away. With dads, they set the expectations that we try to live up to, and the story journeys with Frank to see whether his surprise visit to each of his children, would tally up with what he should or already know. The main worry is of course that the siblings aren't that connected to one another given their individual successful lives, which he will learn about the secrets and the bad things properly shielded from him as well.

To some, there will be scenes and techniques here that may seem a little bit contrived, but which I felt rammed home their intended point. For instance, there's always this point of view when Frank meets his children that they'll always remain as his children, not the adults that they already are. It emphasizes how we always remain a child in our parent's eye, no matter how old we become. Then there's the rather amusing scenes where Frank turns photographer with his film camera, and how people nowadays then to be a little less forgiving and irritated each time someone decides to take a picture in an inevitably crowded location, rather than to be gracious about it and allow the photographer to quickly do his own thing. For the curious, there's the end credits where the photo stills got put up, which I thought was a nice touch.

At its core the film is about basic communications, where the advent of technology allows us to stay connected, yet apart as well because its pervasiveness and ease of use somehow dumbs down the value of that extra bit of an emotional connection, and as you would have experienced yourself, nothing ever beats face to face meetings, because it's not only about hearing the other party's voice, or seeing them through a computerized web camera, but always about the non-verbal channels the entire communication suite brings about when you talk to someone in their presence.

Then there's the top notch casting. We're familiar with how Robert De Niro had gone from wicked gangsters to slapstick comedy without a hitch, and now to add family drama to that list of genres as well. It's practically a one man tour de force as we follow his Frank's journey from start to end, holding up the film together thanks to his wonderful pitch perfect performance. But that's not to discount his co-stars as well, since we have three familiar names playing his children, with the likes of Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and of course, Sam Rockwell, whom we appreciate what he can do given films like Moon. While they all don't always share the same scene together since Frank's on a road trip to visit all his children, each of them bring something special to the table and portray their characters with sensitivity, each with something to hide to avoid disappointing Dad, who through paternal perception would be able to figure things out as well. You can feel general emotions all around as each child slowly reconnects with their dad, while hiding from him an important fact which they all share.

Everybody's Fine is a fine movie indeed, with heartfelt performances, an excellent story filled with superb family drama that you can almost always identify with. It's incredibly moving to the point that you'll be emotionless if you didn't shed a tear in its last act, and yet doesn't go overboard with its melodrama, balancing it perfectly with its themes, and making you reflect upon your own relationships with family, especially with dad. Highly recommended, and also another noteworthy, early addition to the shortlist of the best presented here this year.

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