Robert De Niro plays a widowed retiree named Frank in Everybody’s Fine. And although Frank’s not supposed to be a very sophisticated man, it requires saintly moviegoing patience I clearly don’t have to put up with his level of unworldliness. For one thing, he shows up at the doorsteps of his four adult children, who are scattered across America, without calling ahead, expecting each to be home. What, it would kill him to pick up a phone? The guy spent a working lifetime manufacturing the protective coating that insulates telephone wire, fer chrissakes. The contradiction counts as galumphing irony in this calculatedly soppy, seasonally phony Americanized remake of Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 Stanno Tutti Bene — which was bittersweet in the Italian original with Marcello Mastroianni as the poignant papa.
Then there’s this: Frank, who hasn’t seen his brood since the death of their mother a few months earlier, travels from kid to kid (each son or daughter secretly unhappy, lying to their pop, and not fine at all in his or her own way) by bus and train, toting a sad rolling carry-on bag. Thing is, Frank is the only American born in the age of Samsonite who doesn’t know that rolling bags actually roll, don’t you know, on little wheels that work quite well when the collapsible handle is extended and pulled. So until one of his kids clues him in, he lifts, carries, and schleps like a grandpa from the old country.
Well. The sight of the world-famous Robert De Niro, a powerful actor revered for playing tough guys who can smash Samsonite with their bare hands, pretending not to know how to pull a handle is so embarrassing that the ick ought to obscure the rest of the movie’s falsehoods. Yet, as written and directed by British director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine) with guidance, apparently, from Dr. Phil, the movie introduces offspring who are correspondingly awful, including Kate Beckinsale as a tense, rich ad exec in Chicago, Sam Rockwell as a drippy musician in Denver, and Drew Barrymore as an alleged dancer in Las Vegas. As for the artist son in New York City, jeez, he’s nowhere to be found. Naturally, poor shnooky Frank just waits like a lox on the stoop of the kid’s scary, downtown-y, artisty, and vagranty tenement building. At least he might have spent the time more profitably learning how to get his wheels rolling. D