Let’s get something out of the way right here at kickoff, OK?
I’m a crier.
Not like every once in a while, when the Sox break the Curse, or a grizzled, elder movie cop takes a bullet for a mouthy younger partner, or John Wayne and Braveheart and the good, thumbs-up, come-with-me-if-you-want-to-live Terminator get shot down over Gallipoli while trying to save a school for impovershed panda bears and, as the flaming wreck spirals into the Aegean, exchange steely nods and begin softly humming the theme from Brian’s Song.
No, I’m an unapologetic, entirely immoderate blubberer (or, if you prefer, a “crywhore”). Seriously. Wrath of Khan? Check. The Iron Giant? Bang. The end of Armageddon? Blam. October Sky? Pow. Stuart Little? Yup. Superman III, when Superman gets mean and drunk and fights Clark Kent in a junkyard? Ka-boom. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? Uh-huh. At least one episode of Glee? I think so. The opening credits of Forrest Gump? Guilty. That Youtube video with the lion hugging those two dudes? Just now, again.
Field of Dreams? Every. Freaking. Time.
The point: When you get misty-and-more at as many movies/TV shows/bits of online content as I have, you realize that it happens partially because you enjoy it. Not that you necessarily go looking for it every time, but when you find it, it’s cathartic, cleansing, even — and you’re grateful for the experience.
I went to Everybody’s Fine because Sam Rockwell was in it. What I got was less Rockwell than anticipated, but more emotional resonance and satisfaction (read: “cathartic” wah-wah movie tears). And a whole lot more De Niro — which, as it happens, works out wonderfully. Here, he’s Frank Goode, a widower and retiree who takes tremendous pride in 1) his grown and ostensibly wildly successful children (Beckinsale/Rockwell/Barrymore/Austin Lysy), and 2) his lengthy career, during which he supported those children by running “a thousand miles of `telephone` wire a week, nonstop.” When Frank’s diligent efforts to get his kids back home for a reunion — like their mother used to — fizzle because everyone’s “too busy,” he sets off across the country to find and round them up by himself. Along the way, he discovers that the truth about their lives differs from what he thought he knew.
Fine plays like a somewhat heavier and less restrained — but no less moving — About Schmidt. British writer-director Jones (Waking Ned Devine) reportedly embarked on his own solo U.S. public-transit tour in preparation for his reframing of Cinema Paradiso auteur Giuseppe Tornatore’s Stanno tutti bene, and while there are certainly memorable, authentic-feeling details and small moments throughout that seem derivable from such an adventure, the film’s greatest strength is surely its deft touch with and genuine care for its characters. A combination of assured, well-structured writing and wholly truthful performances by just about all involved (from a powerfully tender, but never showy turn by De Niro down to strikingly real bus-and-train-terminal workers and a sad-scary subway-station junkie) keeps us embedded when a certain narrative device dips into mild stylistic surfeit (but pays off uniquely) — and allows a near-end reveal to hit hard and deep. When the (happy) tears come, they feel earned and true. The result: A simple, poignant holiday tale, one of De Niro’s most affecting roles in recent memory, and an American(/Italian/British) road movie that makes you wanna hug somebody. Once you wipe your leaking nose, that is. — Brian Villalobos
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