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There isn’t much that’s fine in “Everybody’s Fine,” an embarrassing misfire for Kirk Jones, who once gave us the exhilarating comedy “Waking Ned Devine,” and Miramax, a storied company now reduced to little more than a film library. Despite a cloyingly sentimental story that rings false in every moment, the production did attract a substantial cast headed by Robert De Niro. It’s not going to help, though, when Miramax releases the film Dec. 4.
Sometimes a filmmaker and a project just don’t make any sense, and “Fine” is a case in point. The film is ostensibly a remake of Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 film “Stanno Tutti Bene.” That bittersweet Italian dramedy has been totally Americanized, which is fine, only wouldn’t you want an American director aboard to supervise? Jones, who is British and has never made an American film, not only is the director here, he is the writer. His shaky footing on American soil and with American culture is painfully evident.
The movie glides along a surface of complete inauthenticity. Characters have no depth, and all emotions get ladled on via a syrupy score and De Niro’s strenuous acting. It’s a no-go almost from the start.
De Niro plays Frank, a man who has been rough on his kids, demanding their success as payment for his hard work supporting them through their formative years. Now he wonders why no one in his scattered family wants to visit him after their mother died. She was always the buffer, but now she’s gone.
True to his fashion, he ignores his doctor’s advice to take things easy because of a lung condition and hits the road, traveling by bus or train — he hates airplanes — to visit his two sons and two daughters unannounced. Apparently, sneak attacks are the best approach with this family.
You can pretty much guess that when his wife told him the kids were just fine all those years, she wasn’t being frank. Indeed, the first son he visits, a painter in New York, has disappeared.
So he drops in on one of his daughters (Kate Beckinsale), who lives with her husband and son in a tony Chicago neighborhood. She can’t wait to get rid of him, but it’s clear — like everything in this movie, perhaps too clear — that something is seriously amiss.
En route to visit a second son, the long-distance telephone wires buzz with the siblings’ urgent calls that alert one another to Dad’s sneak visits and let you know the New York son is in deep trouble in Mexico.
The second son (Sam Rockwell) doesn’t quite have the job Frank expected. Later, Drew Barrymore, the other daughter, seems happy as a dancer in Las Vegas shows, but signals are everywhere that this too is a false front.
What Jones intends here is a puzzle: Everything is so utterly predictable and the false fronts so obvious, was he really counting on audiences being surprised? Or, more likely, does he mean for you to watch how De Niro reacts to an entire family basically lying to their dad?
There is no web of complexity or societal mischief for the protagonist to penetrate. He merely observes a dance of deceit, responds politely, but when his health finally and inevitably breaks down, he is in a position to demand the truth.
What he “learns” is what has been apparent from the start. He pushed too hard as a father and, to protect him against disappointment, his children put on a show and play the happy family.
What a long way to go for such a banal payoff. And the route is made longer by characters and situations that are equal parts bland and extraneous. Henry Braham’s cinematography and Andrew Jackness’ production design create eye-catching landscapes across America for Frank to wander through, but they feel alarmingly empty.
Venue: AFI Fest (Miramax Films)
Production companies: Radar Pictures in association with Hollywood Gang Productions
Cast: Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Katherine Moenning, James Frain, Melissa Leo
Director/screenwriter: Kirk Jones
Based on the screenplay by: Giuseppe Tornatore
Producers: Gianni Nunnari, Ted Field, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Glynis Murray
Executive producers: Craig J. Flores, Meir Teper, Joe Rosenberg, Mike Weber, Callum Greene
Director of photography: Henry Braham
Production designer: Andrew Jackness
Music: Dario Marrinelli
Costume designer: Aude Bronson-Howard
Editor: Andrew Mondschien
Rated PG-13, 100 minutes
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