D/W: Kirk Jones. DP: Henry Braham. [Original screenplay by Massimo De Rita, Tonino Guerra & Giuseppe Tornatore for the Italian film, Stanno tutti benne (1990).] Starring: Robert DeNiro/Drew Barrymoore/Kate Beckinsale/Sam Rockwell/Melissa Leo/James Frain/Lucian Maisel.
Based on an Italian film, Everybody’s Fine marks the first film of the holiday season. Although there is only one Christmas scene, it has been marketed for the family holiday crowd that will soon be swarming to cinemas. Yet this won’t do a disservice to the film itself, rather it labels the project it in such a way that actually mismatches and misjudges its true value.
Similar to Thomas McCarthy’s 2007 film, The Visitor, Jones’ film follows an older man’s journey into the next stage of his life, alone. And much like Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, Robert DeNiro (Frank) is able to smoothly transition into a quieter detail orientated role in Everybody’s Fine. DeNiro actually shines as this working class character and does the actor justice, showing off the breath and talent that has carried his career. And it is DeNiro’s Frank that that carries the entire film while acting as a complex filter into his children’s lives, driving his journey to rediscover who they are.
In the film his children have little screen time, which works well as the story is rooted in DeNiro’s own exploration of children and death of his wife. This minimal screen time is to the film’s benefit as neither Beckinsale’s Amy, Barrymoore’s Rosie or Rockwell’s Robert are all that interesting. Rather the children seem like archetypes that DeNiro has created, trapping them within his own perception. But is that his fault? As the film’s story and family theme is developed, Jones throws vast amounts of questions about relationships and family at his audience, fostering a film that provokes more discussions than cinematic invention.
The one cinematic element Jones embraces is the dream sequence. Specifically, DeNiro’s memories of his children and his vision of them in their child form. Instead of being a distraction, this tool works exceedingly well to reinforce DeNiro’s perception of his adult children as their younger selves, influencing and inhibiting his connection to them.
Additionally, Braham’s shots do not go unnoticed as his ability to capture stasis and photographic moments within the story balances the dialogue heavy and often times slow moving film. Braham’s work also works with DeNiro’s Frank character as he coiled wire for a living, suggesting he might notice industrial beauty like the cinematographer. And overall this film truly attempts to break into the ugliness and beauty of family, while also ushering DeNiro into a new stage of his career.