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Everybody's Fine

Who's fine? No one, really, but we all knew that, right? Where does politeness stop and uncomfortable truth begin, and what are the considerations we make before burdening someone with the unvarnished truth? Everybody's Fine ponders these things in a somber and intelligent way that belies its generic holiday movie poster.

Robert De Niro plays Frank, an aging widower who spends his lonely days keeping his empty nest tidy and its surrounding foliage immaculate in the way the retired tend to do. He feels intensely the absence of his four grown-up children since the recent death of his wife, and when they all back out of a planned holiday gathering at the family home, he decides to pack up his bag and travel across the country to see each one as a surprise. As he goes from home to home, he begins to realize some uncomfortable truths about the relationship he has with them and, even worse, that there's a bigger secret they're all hiding.

This is a remake of a 1990 Italian film Stanno Tutti Bene, the follow-up to director Giuseppe Tornatore's triumphant Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner, Cinema Paradiso. The American interpretation is written and directed by Kirk Jones, who previously showed a knack for arty yet accessible films with Waking Ned Devine, which, like Everybody's Fine, manages to successfully navigate that oh-so-thin line between saccharine sentimentality and genuine emotional resonance. Unlike Devine, Everybody's Fine has no comedic spoonful of sugar to make the discomfort of an all-too-real family dynamic go down.

De Niro's portrayal of Frank comes almost as a relief. After a lifetime of loud and brusque characters, he settles into the retiree part like a comfortable old pair of slippers. Frank is easily as conflicted as any other person De Niro has played but in a much quieter way -- a dad sorta way. De Niro so entirely and naturally becomes Frank that it's hard not to project your own feelings toward your father onto him. And I suppose that is the point.

Frank's children are played by Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore, who are given just enough development to explain their estrangement from their father -- but that's all the roles require. They're loosely defined enough for the audience to hopefully identify with at least one of them, but only in the service of laying familial guilt at our own feet. It's De Niro's eyes the audience sees through; it's his movie and he owns it.

Everything eventually leads to that question of whether or not to trouble the ones we love with our bad news. Everybody's Fine is relatively taciturn with its conclusions but offers an important suggestion to consider the matter more closely in the audience's own lives. And isn't that what good art should do? This may not be the most uplifting film one could see this holiday season, but it is one of the more thoughtful ones. Between the simple effectiveness of De Niro's performance, the lovely cinematography of Henry Braham (it is sort of a road-trip movie) and the interesting questions it raises, Everybody's Fine is a terrific choice for those who want something more in-depth from their Xmas viewing than tinsel and tired sentimentality. rated this film 3 1/2 stars.