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Everybody's Fine: Will Make You Call Your Family

Robert De Niro, Sam Rockwell, and director Kirk Jones talk up Everybody's Fine, a new film about a father crisscrossing America to get back in touch with his family.

Everybody's Fine

If there's anything to take away from the very relatable new Kirk Jones film, Everybody's Fine, it's this: call your family. The critics' screening of the film, usually a room filled with hard-hearted people taking notes, was sniffling and sobbing after the film. I called my parents and, by Sunday, my mom was visiting me in New York, a rare occurrence.

Everybody's Fine—a remake of the 1990 Italian film starring Marcello Mastroianni by Giuseppe Tornatore (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso)—is a road trip of a film starring Robert De Niro as Frank Goode, a retiree living in solitude after the death of his wife, eight months earlier. When his kids all cancel on a planned family weekend, Frank decides to crisscross America via Amtrak, surprising his kids Rosie (Drew Barrymore), Amy (Kate Beckinsale), and Robert (Sam Rockwell), with a visit and getting a glimpse into their successful lives.

Marking America in telephone poles and wires seen from the Amtrak window, Frank and his kids learn a lot about what it takes to really connect with family as life—and technology—takes its toll. Tribeca Film had the chance to attend a press conference at the Waldorf Astoria this weekend, where director Jones, the natty and bespectacled Rockwell (who, to be fair, is in every film out right now), and De Niro himself held forth on a variety of topics, inspired by the film.

How Everybody's Fine started:

Kirk Jones: Normally I get sent scripts, but on this occasion I was sent the DVD of Stanno Tutti Bene in the Italian language. It was a real pleasure for me, as a fan of (director) Giuseppe Tornatore, to sit down one Sunday morning and—instead of trying to make my way through a script—I could watch a movie. And I related to it.

It's hard to explain why any of us do the projects that we do, but I just felt really connected with it. I just hope I can continue to make films that a lot of people relate to or are interested in, and it struck me that the theme of family, perhaps second only to that of love, is possibly one of the most universal themes you could hope to find. I could relate to it within relationships with my family, and I thought that audiences would relate with their relationships to their parents, their children, their brothers and sisters. That's what drew me in.

Robert De Niro: Well, Kirk had—we were at a meeting and he told me the story and what it was based on and had photos of the whole project, the traveling across the country and everything. I was impressed with how passionate about the project he was. It was special and he doesn't do movies often—this will be his third (after Waking Ned Devine and Nanny McPhee)—and so that was important for me, knowing that he cared so much, obviously. So then I saw the original and then I saw his two movies and I read the script and then we just had to decide when to do it.

Sam Rockwell: I decided I wanted to work with Kirk and the girls. And Bob, especially, was a big incentive, because I had grown up watching his films.

On relating to Everybody's Fine and family dynamics:

RDN: I relate to Frank, obviously, and drew on my own experiences like I do in all my parts. You draw on whatever's relevant to the part you're playing. It makes it more personal. There was a lot here of course. I have five children, two grandchildren. But also going back to Kirk being the director and caring—that's the anchor of the whole thing. So that's really, really important. He has to steer the ship, it's his baby, so he's got to make choices and all that. So I put myself in his hands so to speak.

KJ: I meet with hundreds of people before doing a film. I would say a quarter of them (actors and technicians), even talking about the script, were emotionally quite moved from some themes there we were touching on in the film. A lot of actors were coming in and saying, you know what, I know my parents aren't proud of me, I absolutely know that's a fact. They would get emotional talking about that, but it wasn't just actors—because actors can get emotional—but technicians, real kind of hard-nosed sound engineers started to talk about the project and became visibly and emotionally moved. I started to realize that to them, it was about family and the complex emotions that exist within a family.

I never adapted anything at all [before], and I always remember Anthony Minghella saying—he was the master of adaptation—he always said if he's adapting a novel he will read it, maybe twice, and then completely walk away from the source material and write his screenplay. I felt very strongly about that. I think I only watched [the original] about three times. It was important for me to write my own story with essentially the same themes. Quite early on, i reduced the number of children in the story—initially there were five children, so I brought it down to four. It was a natural development in the writing.

On the third Meet the Parents:

RDN: We're doing a third. Meet the Little Fockers. Like in Meet the Little Fockers, it's also The Godfocker. And I ask Greg [referring to Ben Stiller's character, Gaylord "Greg" Focker], because I have a feeling: "if something happens to me will he be the Godfocker?" (De Niro laughs heartily, and the room laughs along with him.)

The role of technology in their lives:

RDN: I don't Twitter. Somebody told me about it. I didn't know what it was.

SR: I'm Twittering right now.

KJ: A number of people have asked me about families and communities and how a lot of people are living far away from each other. I do worry sometimes that we're all so connected.  Sam doesn't even have a computer—

SR: That's right!

KJ: That's something I admire about him. I think we're struggling at this moment, all of us, including our kids, and maybe some of our parents, are getting so sucked in by the technological age. There's no end to the working day anymore. We're all too nervous, too paranoid to not answer that email at midnight. Everybody communicates now from different time zones.

You know, when my dad went to work—he's an electrician, he would work from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, but when he came home at five, I'm not saying he sat and read me stories and took me fishing every night, but at least he was home, and part of a family unit. I think we're losing that a little. I think there were less distractions not so long ago. I think there's going to be a bit of a revolution, that there's going to be a backlash. Someone told me in Japan, the best selling cell phone now is one that doesn't text, doesn't email, it just makes calls. They've just had enough.

SR: I have memories of calling my agent from a phone booth. I can still remember Greek diners that I went to when I got a callback for that movie. Memories of being frustrated and hitting phone booths, for one audition or another. So yeah, sure, but the texting thing is very—it gets to be too much. For me, certainly. Multi-tasking. I read an article in The Week recently where they said, "What makes a multi-tasker great at being a multi-tasker?" And they said, "Nothing!" Because they can't really do anything well because they're trying to do too many things.

RDN: I only know how to use a computer. I don't even know how good I am at it. I slowly use the little things and get emails and I look at videos on the computer and I use an iPhone. I guess I use it... adequately.

Everybody's Fine
is released on Friday, December 4. Click here for ticket information. Bring tissues!



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