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Even a cast that includes Drew Barrymore and Robert De Niro can’t overcome the script’s and director’s shortcomings.

2 out of 4 stars


Everybody's Fine

  • Directed and written by Kirk Jones
  • Starring Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell
  • Classification: PG

If nothing else (and there ain't much else), Everybody's Fine does prove one thing: Even an actor with the gifts of Robert De Niro can't make bland interesting. Saddled with playing Frank Goode, a character about as compelling as his name, a clearly befuddled De Niro struggles to find something, anything, to make us care about this ho-hum guy - struggles, and then pretty much admits defeat. "Attention must be paid," wrote the playwright about another common man. But Willy Loman, with his tragic flaws and redeeming virtue, deserved our attention. Frank Goode barely merits a glance.

That's because he's trapped in a script that needs him to be recognizably ordinary - essentially good, occasionally not - but doesn't know how to give his ordinariness any dramatic weight or conviction. Instead, the narrative gets loose and then downright gimmicky.

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This is a remake of the Guiseppe Tornatore film Stanno Tutti Benne , and, although the map has shifted to America, the compass is every bit as wonky. Matters start in the Northeast, where the recently widowed Frank has settled into a bored retirement from his blue-collar job, reduced to inventing ways to tidy up his already impeccable suburban house. His four children are all adults now, scattered across the country and also adroit at inventing things - mainly polite excuses not to visit their father. So Frank, despite his frail lungs, heads out to serially visit them, and darned if we don't have a road movie.

Seen through Frank's rose-coloured glasses, his offspring are uniformly happy and hugely successful: David (Austen Lysy) is a talented artist in Manhattan; Amy (Kate Beckinsale) a rich ad-exec in Chicago; Robert (Sam Rockwell) a symphony conductor in Denver; and Rosie (Drew Barrymore) a headlining dancer in Vegas. Well, guess what: They aren't what he thinks they are, aren't nearly that successful or all that happy. Seems that first his late wife and then the kids themselves have contrived to cocoon him in a tissue of half-truths and outright lies. Why? Check this out: "You always worried too much if everything wasn't perfect."

Sorry, but in the annals of family dysfunction, excessive worrying isn't much of a dramatic hook. What's less, when Frank tracks down the deceivers and the scales slowly fall from his eyes, it's not as if he gets upset staring down truth's barrel. However wrong-headed ol' Dad may have been in the past, he's definitely right-hearted now, loving his brood even with their masks removed and intent only on "getting us all around the same table" for Christmas. Fine and "goode" indeed, but it gives poor De Niro zilch to work with. With no character to explore, he almost seems to retreat into himself instead, and an actor who so often lit up the screen disappears right off it.

For his part, writer-director Kirk Jones (who cut his teeth on Waking Ned Devine , then dulled them on NannyMcPhee ) doesn't do much to help. He tries to give Frank a few comic encounters on the road and we're keen to work with him there, but our labours come up well short of a laugh - maybe a faint chuckle or two.

Okay, when a little comedy fails, how about a big tragedy? Can't give it away, although I can offer you a cost-saving tip: Buy the popcorn but don't shell out for any tissues. The search for tears is contrived at best and maudlin the rest of the time. Seldom has suffering seemed so sweet, and neat, all the painful loose ends nicely tied up before the snow falls and the bells jingle.

Of course, 'tis the season for this kind of picture, and I don't mean to suggest it's a complete turkey. It's not, but that's just another problem with bland - you can't even get a good hate going. Hey, one more Friday movie, two more begrudging stars, everything's fine.

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Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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