Everybody’s Fine (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language.
Length: 99 minutes
Grade: DCCD=D+
Budget: $21 million
Box Office: $20 million (9 U.S., 5 Intl., 6 DVD)

Written by: Massimo DeRita, Tonino Guerra, and Giuseppe Tornatore (All three prolific Italian screenwriters, but nothing you’d recognize)
Also Written and Directed by: Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee and Waking Ned Devine)
Starring: Robert De Niro
With: Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, and Sam Rockwell.

After the death of his wife, a retired telephone wire manufacturer in ill health feels like he’s losing touch with his children. So he decides to take a cross-country bus and train ride to pay each of them a surprise visit. Little does he know that they have all been deceiving him about their lives in one way or another.

Entertainment Value: D
This was depressing to watch, both in content and in tone/pace. It’s dealing with extremely important subject matter, but it’s just plain dull in dealing with it.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B-, Violence B-, Language C-
One plot involves someone using drugs, but we never see it. One character turns out to be lesbian, and there is some discussion of infidelity. There is a mugging, a scene of a panic attack/heart attack and some concerns about death. Weirdly, the thing that got this a PG-13 rating instead of a PG was one completely superfluous scene with several profanities. I have no idea why they wrote that in or why they chose that one thing to cost them the lower rating over. PG-13 is right.

Significant Content: C
It’s important for families to be honest with each other about both their successes and their struggles because the whole idea of family is that you’re there for each other no matter what. A parent who pushes his children to succeed often unintentionally conveys to them the message that they are only pleasing to him if they are doing well. It’s important for parents to affirm their children, so long as their children are doing what makes them happy.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
The one neatest device used in the film was almost so overused that it became obnoxious, which was having him meet each of the kids and see them as their young child selves. Otherwise, I actually suspect that the writers here didn’t even recognize their own failure to grasp the point of their movie. See, we encounter Frank as a sad old man trying to reconnect with his family. We eventually learn that he has made family achievement into an idol which has led him to treat his children with some neglect and conditional love, so that they all want to lie to him so they’ll get his approval. Eventually he discovers the truth and decides to just love them for who they are. Fine, except that he’s only substituted his achievement idol for a family idol. The implied “and they all lived happily ever after having learned this lesson” just doesn’t seem likely. And if, instead, they move back to semi-neglecting him, he’ll find himself no better off than he was with his success-idol. But this is very symptomatic of our society which is always trying to talk people first into idols like achievement and success and then to replace those with others like family or entertainment when they don’t hold up.

Discussion Questions:
~Who in this movie strikes you as more pathetic: the children or Frank?
~Would you describe Frank as a good or a bad father, based on what this movie shows? How responsible do you think he is for any of the various problems in his or his children’s lives?
~How important is it to you to please your parents or fulfill their desires for your life? How much have your parents pushed you in this regard? ~Which of his children seem truly happy? By the end, are any more of them happy?
~What do you think is the reason to raise a family? What did Frank think the reason for raising a family was?
~How might Frank’s life have been different if he had learned to gain his significance and identity from Jesus instead of from other things?
~What’s the meaning of the title? Is it meant to be ironic? Prophetic? Is being “fine” a byproduct of circumstances or of relational acceptance?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The mugging. Why is that scene such a brilliant encapsulation of Frank’s entire life strategy? Whom does the mugger represent, symbolically?
~Connecting with his symphony conductor son.
~Around the picnic table with the rain.
Getting the unreleased painting by his son.
Overall Grade: D+
A boring and sad movie about a boring and sad family which tries to send a useful message, but mostly just winds up making us bored and sad by watching it.

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