I was in a McDonald’s the other day, because I’m into health food, and I saw one of their $1 dollar rental DVD stands while I was in line. And standing there, I saw a DVD with Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken and William H. Macy that went straight to DVD, THE MAIDEN HEIST. I was dumbfounded. So much so, in fact, that three people jumped in line in front of me (bunch of savages in this town). I thought if any big three leading up a movie could avoid a straight to DVD release it’d be those three. But no, apparently the big three names to line up to avoid Straight-to-DVD hell is DeNiro, Barrymore and Sam Rockwell/Kate Beckinsale, as the new release EVERYBODY’S FINE is a Lifetime movie disguised as a theatrical release. I think it avoided that hell due to Barrymore’s Hollywood name. And yet the film still gets a 5. Wha?
Robert DeNiro plays Frank Goode, a widowed father of four who, upon being stood up mysteriously by his children for a family get together at the house, decides to travel to see his kids all around the country. Frank suffers from a lung disease which discourages him from flying/traveling at all, but he is a stubborn old man on a mission, so he boards trains and buses to get to his children, all of whom are guarding some family secret. His artistic son David (Austin Lysy) is nowhere to be found at his apartment in New York. His daughters Amy and Rosie (Beckinsale and Barrymore, respectively) live with hidden relationship problems, Amy also with a problem with her son, Jack. While Frank’s other son, Robert (Sam Rockwell) isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with his career in an orchestra, not as the conductor as his father thinks, but as the “percussionist,” who just bangs a big drum. Frank has pills which make his trip possible which are destroyed by a mugger, though in the altercation DeNiro still displays that amazing reservoir that is “Old Man Strength.” And on his trip back home, he takes a flight and, without his pills, has a heart attack. He then has a dream sequence realizing his kids have been lying to him all this time, opening his eyes to their fear of disappointing him they’ve experienced all these years.
It is in these dream sequences that the movie has its biggest flaws and also most heartfelt moments. The dream sequence during his heart attack takes place at a picnic table with Frank’s four children as they are children talking about their adult problems. This could be a serious scene, but with the children it is simply off-putting as we just remember the classroom scene from ANNIE HALL (“I’m into leather.”). However, as DeNiro meets his kids at their different spots along his journey, he flashes back to seeing them as children in his mind’s eye. These are tender moments that DeNiro sells with his big smile, and they remind each of us of a proud father/grandpa. His travels also add an ambiguous reaction to the film, as it’s easy to fall for the draw of the road and traveling our great country, but he has no cell phone and he doesn’t grasp the simple concept of time zones…it just isn’t something DeNiro would do.
There’s also a touch of generational guilt added into the film that works for and against it, as Frank’s blue collar work at coating telephone wire (a job of which he is immensely proud) caused his lung problems that are killing him, but also put his kids through school to learn business, art, music and dance. The older generation suffered to allow the younger to “find itself.” And most of us find ourselves judging the older generation’s lack of self-awareness. It’s a point made in after school specials to teach us to respect our elders, but somehow it also works, mainly because we can’t help but like DeNiro.
The film ends with the family around a dinner table celebrating Christmas, and DeNiro reciting the film’s title in a cheesy voice over… and I found it fitting that this happens to be while the Network for Women is celebrating “FalalalaLifetime” for the holidays. This film has its moments, as any such film would have to anyone with a heart, but hey, even Meredith Baxter Birney can elicit tears on some of her made-for-TV movies. Doesn’t mean we should watch them in theaters.