Radio 12.04.09
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” and here’s my commentary on a film opening today at The Majestic Theater in Greenville :
            How many films design their target audience to be mature men with grown children?  Not many.  In “Everybody’s Fine,” Robert de Niro plays the Dad, who is, at first, shown doing very routine, mundane things:  mowing the grass, vacuuming the carpet, trimming the tree branches in the back yard.  After while, we realize that both the house and the yard are pristine.  This routine maintenance, apparently, is all he has to do.  He is excited, though, about the prospect of all four of his adult children coming to visit him this weekend, and he tells anybody who will listen all about it:  from the clerk at the grocery store to the willing salesman who sells him a big ‘ol bar-b-q grill.
        Alas, one by one, he gets phone messages from his kids that they can’t come.  The excuses vary, but the theme is the same:  something urgent has come up, so sorry, I’ll be in touch, let’s plan this again, etc.  Somewhere in one of the messages, we hear that they haven’t been back since the funeral.  Now we understand:  he’s a recent widower, trying to keep connected to his grown children, scattered all over the country.
         Disappointed, but not defeated, he decides he’ll just go visit his kids, one by one, unannounced.  And when he does, he discovers that all is not how he envisioned it to be, with any of them.  Yes, there are parts of their lives that they have kept from him.  They tell him it’s because Mom was easier to talk to.  They tell him it’s because they knew he always expected so much of them, and they didn’t want to disappoint him.
          Somewhere along the way, Dad has to face up to his own shortcomings during the idyllic time he remembers their growing-up years (they are constantly appearing to him in their childhood form, even when they’re right in front of him).  Yes, he did want to set high standards for them.  But how did that translate into making him unapproachable?  He decides that he really does want them to tell him the truth about their lives.  They are reluctant, at first, afraid that they will incur his perpetual disappointment.  And, truth be told, it is difficult for him to adjust his thinking about them:  he so wanted to believe that they were all high achievers, all happy in their relationships, all connected to one another, all highly-successful and pressing onward to still greater things.
          Ah, but what if they’re struggling?  What if they’ve reached a career plateau, but they’re happy there, and want him to be glad for them about their level of contentment?  What if the nature of their relationships is not quite what he had always assumed?  And somehow was Mom in on the collusion?
          “Everybody’s Fine” doesn’t even pretend to have all the answers about fathers and their grown children.  But it will tap into many deep-seated emotional needs, on all sides.  And it just might result in some very helpful conversations afterwards, about “keeping it real.” “Everybody’s Fine” is a quiet little movie that doesn’t try to do too much.  But what it does can pack a significant impact.
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” for 93-5 KICK-FMoHowHH