by M. Faust
Remember Cinema Paradiso? Sure you do, a tasteful, cultured, perspicacious reader like you. It may well even be one of your favorite movies. Do you remember director Giuseppe Tornatore’s followup film? Don’t feel bad if you don’t—it wasn’t nearly the hit that its predecessor was. It was released in the US (minimally) as Everybody’s Fine, though I much preferred the original title: Stanno Tutti Bene. (Stop for a moment and say that out loud. It’s very satisfying on the palate, and it can’t help but make you feel Italian.)
Stanno Tutti Bene starred Marcello Mastroianni as a retired Sicilian bureaucrat who takes pride in the wonderful job he did raising his five children, all of whom now lead successful careers in distant Italian cities. After they fail to show up for a planned summer vacation, he decides to visit them, a trip which shows (more to us than to him) that he has been living his life with rose-colored glasses.
That the American remake, which keeps the title Everybody’s Fine, does not hew religiously to the model of the original should be clear when you hear who they got to take the Mastroianni part: Robert DeNiro. Mastroianni was so sui generis that I don’t know if you could find an American equivalent for him. Maybe something between George Clooney and Jack Lemmon. But, no disrespect intended, not DeNiro.
All of which may matter to those of you devoted to STB. For the vast majority of the rest of you, DeNiro plays Frank Goode, a retired factory worker living in Elmira, New York. (Funny, I’ve driven through the real Elmira a zillion times and never noticed how much it looks like Connecticut. Guess you have to get off Route 17 for that view.)
Frank hasn’t quite known what to do with himself since his wife died. He notices that he hasn’t heard much from his four kids, who used to call all the time to talk to their mother. So he decides to hit the road to visit them in Manhattan, Chicago, Denver, and Las Vegas.
He doesn’t tell them in advance because he wants to surprise them. Of course, the problem with trying to surprise someone is that you’ll often be the one who gets the real surprise.
The poster for Everybody’s Fine makes it look like a wacky holiday comedy along the lines of Meet the Fockers. If that’s what you’re expecting, I can tell you in advance to leave your laughing pants at home. Not that the film doesn’t have a handful of chuckles (I enjoyed DeNiro’s encounter with a hooker), but it’s a much more somber film than the marketing campaign wants you to think.
What Frank learns is that his attempts to support his kids when they were young and inspire them to success has backfired. They all struggle with life’s ups and downs, but don’t ever want to tell him about the downs for fear of disappointing them.
Stripped of Tornatore’s satirical subtext, this material runs the risk of mawkishness, a trap director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine, Nanny McPhee) doesn’t always avoid. (In that regard the true offender is composer Dario Marianelli, who refuses to let any potential emotion go unaccented.)
In the end it works because of the chemistry between DeNiro and Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale as his children. The editing sometimes works against the actors—scenes that would play more powerfully with two actors in the same frame are diminished buy cutting between closeups—but enough of their works get through to make an impact.
Everybody’s Fine ends with an extended feel-good ending that may be more than the story requires, but which works to send viewers out happy rather than depressed. If it was good enough for Charles Dickens, I guess it’s good enough for Hollywood.
Watch the trailer for Everybody’s Fine
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