3 Stars — Thought Provoking

Holidays are great times to bring the family together and reminisce. Often we spend more time telling stories about past holidays that were fun rather than making the present moment memorable. To some degree, this comes from our desire to see the world as filled with happy moments, and those memories of the past are easier to connect with than the relationships that are in front of us. It may also stem from our desire to want the world to be more perfect than it really is. This tendency to remember the “good ol’ days” rather than living in the present is the theme of Kirk Jones’ Everybody’s Fine.

Frank Goode (Robert De Niro) is a recent widower who is looking forward to the holidays when his four adult children will come back home and fill the void left by his departed wife. One by one, each son and daughter calls and leaves a message telling him that they won’t be able to be there this year due to circumstances in their lives. Each one doesn’t know that the other siblings have also called with a similar message.

Facing the holiday alone, Frank decides to take a little road trip to surprise each of his children, all of whom live in different parts of the United States. Since Frank’s health hasn’t been good, he is restricted from flying and is taking heart medications regularly.

Frank’s trip provides the opportunity for him to face where each of his children really are — physically, emotionally and spiritually — in their lives. More important, Frank must face himself and recognize the shadow that he has cast over their lives. Rather than listening to them about what makes them happy, Frank has spent his entire life telling them what will make them happy. The measurements he uses to detect their success and happiness is in fact a projection of his own desire.

Frank travels by train, bus and one airplane to visit his kids from New York to Las Vegas. Since none of them know he is coming, each visit is a shock and a breakthrough on both sides of the parent-child relationship.

His oldest son, David (Austin Lysy), is not home in his New York apartment. To Frank, David is a successful artist in Manhattan. Frank is confused by his son’s lack of contact. What he doesn’t know is that the rest of his siblings are trying to find out where David is as well.

Frank relates stories to people he meets on trains and buses along the way about the successes of his children. His son, Robert (Sam Rockwell), is a symphony conductor in Denver; his daughter, Amy (Kate Beckinsale), has a wonderful family and is the head of an advertising agency; and his daughter, Rosie (Drew Barrymore), is a successful dancer performing in Las Vegas. Most of these images are far from the truth.

Each step along the way, Frank is shocked and dismayed as to why none of his children have told him the truth. He is also haunted by the memory that all of his kids were close to their mother and would tell her anything. Why wouldn’t they do the same with him? Didn’t they love him just as much?

The answer that each son or daughter gives to Frank is that they “didn’t want to disappoint him because he had such high hopes for them.” “Everything’s fine,” became the mantra that each used when Frank would ask how they were doing. It was also what his wife told him when he would ask if she had heard from the kids.

We won’t spoil the story of what Frank finds along the way, except to say that it is only through the pain of facing each of his children and listening to their hearts for the first time, that transforms him from a fantasy father to a person living in a real relationship with each of them.

Frank’s love for his family is deep and abiding. He has given everything to them, except his unconditional love and presence. What Frank finds out later in life is that loving relationships require suspending judgment and must be lived day to day, person to person. We can’t live our relationships through a spouse or through unspoken expectations of gratitude for the food and shelter we’ve provided. Frank’s longing for love was the same as his children’s. Once they started giving it honestly to one another, life began to transform into a true bond of friendship. This is a lesson from which we can all learn today.


» In your relationship with your parents did you experience them projecting their dreams and aspirations on you, or did they allow you to choose your own path? How has your experience affected your relationship with them?

» The unspoken expectations we have of others puts them in a “no-win” situation. Are there any conversations you need to have with parents, siblings, spouses or children that can help clarify what your relationship hopes are?

» Often it is at the end of life that we discover its secrets. Why do you think that is so often true? Is it because of the complexities or because we tend to try to discover life’s secrets on our own?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.