“Everybody’s Fine” and “Crazy Heart”
Robert DeNiro and Jeff Bridges, arguably two of our finest movie actors, have films currently in release, “Everybody’s Fine” and “Crazy Heart,” respectivley. While Bridges usuallly picks good scripts and always delivers fine performances why does DeNiro seemingly insist on appearing in movies that are bad, indifferent or at the very least projects for which he is over qualified?
In his latest movie, “Everybody’s Fine,” DeNiro plays Frank Goode, a recent widower just trying to get his kids together for a weekend. The kids are scattered across the country but when they cancel on him, one by one, our hero decides to pay a surprise visit to each of them. Using this dubious motivation, and carrying an envelope for each kid, Frank takes off on a cross country trip.
Although “Everybody’s Fine” is a remake of a 1990 Italian movie starring Marcello Mastroianni it reminded me of an infinitely better movie from 1974 called “Harry & Tonto,” in which Art Carney played a widower traveling cross country and paying visits to his kids. In the event that “Everybody’s Fine” “borrowed” from “Harry & Tonto” it has missed the point. In “Harry & Tonto” Harry is doing much more than just visiting his kids, which is the story’s text. He is looking for a place in the world, which is the story’s subtext. “Everybody’s Fine” has next to no subtext. The film feels the need to go out of its way to dot every “i” and cross every “t” culminating in a bizarre, ill advised scene in which Frank imagines all his kids as young children explaining their adult lives to him, while shamelessly tossing out blatant exposition in the process. Yes, Frank certainly learns things about his kids but the story is ultimately heavy handed and drenched in gooey holiday cheer. I wont give it away, but the contents of the envelopes Frank has for his kids are a major anti-climax. DeNiro tries for our sympathies by playing Frank as “oh so preciously rumpled.” DeNiro runs the emotional gamut from A to B. In contrast Carney won an Oscar for his performance in “Harry & Tonto,” against formidable competition which included Al Pacino in “The Godfather Part II,” a movie which, coincidentally, co-starred DeNiro. Hmmm…
Is the DeNiro in “Everybody’s Fine” really the same actor who was in was in “The Godfather Part II,” “1900,” “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” to list just a few? DeNiro must still have the clout to get a good movie made. Let’s not play the age card either because DeNiro is only six years older than Bridges, who shows no signs of slowing down.
Bridges completely inhabits his character in “Crazy Heart.” His Bad Blake feels like someone who has had a life prior to the story’s start. Although I found the story of “Crazy Heart” to be familiar, sluggish and not particularly satisfying, Bridges plays a character that is authentic and conflicted. Bad is a down and out alcoholic country singer whose glory days are behind him but who lives by his own code. Bridges even plays the guitar, sings and does it well. “Crazy Heart” reminded me of “The Wrestler” (2008) in that both movies involve characters who had once been at the top of their games but are now on the margins. “The Wrestler” in turn reminded me of “Fat City” (1972) a film about the low end of the boxing circuit that co-starred a very young…Jeff Bridges. The more things change the more they remain the same.
Everybody’s Fine, director Kirk Jones, Miramax Films, 99 minutes, rated PG-13
Crazy Heart, director Scott Cooper, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 111 minutes, rated R