My Kate Beckinsale film festival ends with her most recent release, Everbody's Fine, which turned out to be something unexpected. To judge by the poster, seen here, I thought it would be one of those predictably heart-warming dramedies that pop up every Christmas, as the four actors pictured here are all smiles. However, Everybody's Fine turns out to be one of the grimmest Hollywood films I've seen in a long time.
Robert DeNiro stars as a retired widower who is planning a reunion visit by his four adult children. He goes to great lengths to set everything up, buying an expensive barbecue and setting up a kiddie pool (though his only grandchild is about thirteen years old). Within a few minutes, though, all of his kids beg off due to different reasons. He then resolves, despite doctor's orders (he has a lung disorder) to criss-cross the country, visiting each kid.
As he does so, he realizes that all of them are withholding information, or out-and-out lying to him. One son is not home, but Beckinsale seems to be hiding family problems, another son (Sam Rockwell) is not the conductor his father thought he was, but instead a percussionist in an orchestra (I wonder at the reaction of percussionists, as this status is clearly treated as a second-rate occupation), while a second daughter (Drew Barrymore) claims to be a Las Vegas showgirl but something is amiss. DeNiro realizes that his children were honest with their mother but guarded with him, whether because he worries too much or as a method of punishing him for pushing them too hard.
The film was written and directed by Kirk Jones, who is also responsible for the whimsical Waking Ned Devine, which makes this film seem so strange, as it is completely without humor. It really requires a disclaimer, as anyone in a state of emotional distress centering on family trauma could be pushed by over the edge by its bleak presentation. It has a sort-of happy ending, but could induce flashbacks for anyone with a difficult childhood.
There are some things to admire here. The best scene, and the one I wonder whether Jones built the film around, is a dream sequence DeNiro has in which he confronts his children about their lies, and they are all represented by themselves at about ten years old. DeNiro, who has given so many intense performances over the years that it seems strange to see him puttering around like a pensioner, finally opens up in the scene, reminding us of his gifts as an actor (and the kids are pretty good, too--it didn't seem weird to hear a child of about eight talking about having a baby out of wedlock).
Jones also has a good eye for visuals, with some striking scenes set on trains and buses, and an eerie scene in a train station when DeNiro has an encounter with a homeless youth. But the film is finally dragged down by its unrelenting mawkishness. Watching this film is like spending two hours comforting someone in the throes of grief. It takes a while to shake off, but not for good reasons.