Published Dec 03, 2009When did Robert De Niro become such an old man? In Everybody's Fine, he plays Frank, a lonely recent widower trying to get his three grown children to visit for the weekend, and as we see him puttering around preparing for their visit ― cutting the grass, readying the barbeque, asking grocery store clerks for wine advice. This intimidating goodfella completely recedes under this mountain of paunch and wrinkles.
This is Robert De Niro's best performance in years ― admittedly faint praise considering that recent years have been littered with Righteous Kill and What Just Happened ― but this is a truly strong, subtle performance. It is fascinating to watch him play a man who so wants to appear content that he completely internalizes his pain. Watching him work here serves as a reminder that when he feels like it, he can be one of the best screen actors of all time. Like Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt ― a film Everybody's Fine slightly resembles ― this is a case of a veteran actor shedding the lazy shtick he had grown dependent on and challenging himself.
Frank has four children ― an advertising executive (Kate Beckinsale), a cellist (Sam Rockwell), a Vegas dancer (Drew Barrymore) and a troubled artist, who the siblings have just learned was arrested in Mexico on a drug charge. They agree not to tell Frank until they get the details and cancel their weekend plans, but are caught by surprise when Frank decides to visit them instead. During his visits, it becomes clear that his children lie to him about more than just the other brother's whereabouts.
It's too bad that the direction by Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine) isn't as confident as De Niro's performance. Piling emotional music and grating soft rock songs on the soundtrack, he aggressively underlines all the emotions that Frank is trying to keep hidden.
His screenplay, based on a 1990 Italian film, also makes some big missteps ― Frank is unrealistically naïve in his run-in with a junkie, and a dream sequence near the film's end goes way over the top. But while the movie is just too overbearing to have the emotional impact it should, a good De Niro performance is always worth a look. (Maple)