When you hear “everybody’s fine”, you start to think to yourself, what’s being held back from me. Robert De Niro (Stardust, Meet the Fockers) is about to find out, playing Frank Goode. Directed and written by Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee) from the original screenplay and film by Giuseppe Tornatore, is a movie about truly seeing what makes one’s family.
De Niro plays Frank, who coated power and telephone lines to support his family. After the death of his wife he continues on even while dealing with his health issue of fibrosis of the lungs. After his kids have all called to cancel what would be their summer gathering, Frank decides to go surprise his kids and see each of them. This sets up how Frank sees not just his kids but how he has lived his life, that he does not know everything within his own family. His kids, Amy played by Kate Beckinsale (Whiteout, Van Helsing), Robert played by Sam Rockwell (Frost/Nixon, The Hitchhiker’s Guide), Rosie played by Drew Barrymore (50 First Dates, Charlie’s Angels) and the nowhere to be found David who is briefly played by Austin Lysy (Law & Order:SVU).
This movie takes it adaptation from Giuseppe Tornatore’s Italian film “Stanno Tutti Bene” where a widower goes out to surprise his kids and spend time with them only to find that their lives are not what he’s been told. In Kirk’s updated American version, we have Frank (De Niro) doing just that after all of his kids have canceled their summer gathering. What ensues is Frank wondering what’s true and what has been hidden from him all these years from his recently departed wife. Traveling via trains and busses Frank goes to each kid one by one trying to surprise them. What we find is through Franks travels, Amy (Beckinsale) is separated living alone with her son and seeing someone from her work, Robert (Rockwell) is not a conductor of an orchestra but just a percussionist, Rosie (Barrymore) has a child and is bi-sexual, and then David (Lysy) who is missing through most of the film and is the secret the kids have been hiding from their dad.
Kirk’s vision for the film by interlacing conversations Frank has on the road between the family visits shows us how we take pride in our family even though we may not know everything that is happening in their own lives. I also enjoy how Frank still sees his kids as “kids”. Something we all know our own parents do. The transitions of seeing the telephone lines Frank has helped create, along with hearing the conversations between people, more poignantly between his kids who are trying to find David, before dad finds out, help reiterate that even though we may live our lives we still communicate with each other because family is forever. We all need to take the bad with the good; we should never hide ourselves especially from those who should know us best.
De Niro does some good work playing a down to earth well lived man who loves his family. Beckinsale and Barrymore playing sisters doing everything they can to find their brother and yet still make dad happy, comes off genuine. Rockwell shows his character’s disappointment in himself, kind of forced but still very well. The overall dynamic of the family at the end shows just how much these characters do care about each other, even through tough times. This is also brought out in the ending song written by Sir Paul McCartney, “(I Want to) Come Home”. The special features at the end include a making of the song and how Paul came up with tying together the music and the film of what family is. Family is important, no matter if it is the family you are born into or the family you choose. It is the one constant in your life that will always be there for you.