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'Everybody's Fine' drives home a wistful message about family

By Alan Duke, CNN
"Everybody's Fine" writer-director Kirk Jones with stars Kate Beckinsale, Robert DeNiro and Drew Barrymore.
"Everybody's Fine" writer-director Kirk Jones with stars Kate Beckinsale, Robert DeNiro and Drew Barrymore.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Everybody's Fine" is targeted at "pretty much everyone," director Kirk Jones told CNN
  • Story centers on a father's journey as he seeks to reunite his kids for the holidays
  • Each stop reveals how his wife had sheltered him from bad news about his kids
  • Jones, who also wrote the screenplay, traveled the U.S. for inspiration

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- If you stared at empty seats around your Thanksgiving dinner table, Robert DeNiro's newest film could help.

Parents who want their kids home for Christmas may do well by persuading them to see "Everybody's Fine," which opens next Friday in U.S. theaters.

"I'm hoping it might catch the moment, and it might catch the Christmas spirit and the Thanksgiving spirit," director-writer Kirk Jones told CNN over coffee in Hollywood.

The movie is targeted at people with parents, brothers, sisters or children, Jones said. "Pretty much everyone," Jones said. "It's about family."

The story centers around a cross-country journey by DeNiro's character struggling to bring together his grown children for Christmas, several months after their mother's death.

DeNiro reveals a sensitive, aging father who imagines that "everybody's fine" -- a solace for his lonely suffering.

Each stop reveals how his wife had sheltered him from bad news about his kids -- played by Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell -- and how they did not know how to communicate honestly with him.

His children were not living the lives he had fantasized for them.

"It's easier not to face up to the truth," Jones said.

Audiences emerged from preview screenings thinking about their own parents or children, Jones said.

"People are coming out of the movie, almost without exception, saying 'I've got to ring my mom, I've got to ring my dad,'" Jones said.

The strongest reactions have come from people between 24 and 35, many of whom told Jones he's "scratched a nerve," he said. "They were saying 'That's me. That's my dad. Those are my parents.'"

"Most people have got regrets," he said. "When they leave their parents, everyone looks back and thinks, 'I should have invited them on holiday with us that time or I should have made it that weekend or I should have just called them more often.'"

People are coming out of the movie ... saying 'I've got to ring my mom, I've got to ring my dad.'
--Kirk Jones, writer and director of "Everybody's Fine"
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It's a remake of Giuseppe Tornatore's 1990 Italian film "Stanno Tutti Bene" -- English translation: Everybody's Fine. But Jones, a British director best known as the writer-director of the 1998 surprise hit "Waking Ned Devine," made this into an American story.

Jones took his own trip for inspiration before writing the screenplay, traveling by train and bus across the United States.

He realized the telephone wires he saw, stretching from pole to pole for hundreds of miles along the tracks and highways, serve as a metaphor for his story. "It's like a wave, a musical rhythm," Jones said.

Frank -- DeNiro's character -- spent his life manufacturing the protective coating for the telephone lines. "He protected the line of communication," Jones said.

But decades of exposure to the chemicals made him ill, as did his years of insulation from honest communications with his family.

"The irony is, when he's traveling, the children are talking about him through his wires," Jones said.

A personal irony for the director is that, for the 14 months Jones was making this movie about family togetherness in the United States, he was away from his own family in England.

 
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