We watched the 2009 film “Everybody’s Fine,” starring Robert De Niro and Drew Barrymore, and it was — well — fine. The movie, which also stars Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell, is based on an Italian flick, “Sono Tutti Bene.” The American version has earned about half of what it cost.

The premise is that a widower, Frank Goode (De Niro), who lives alone in upstate New York, has his mind set on getting his four children to gather around the same table. A reunion at the family home has been arranged, but the kids cancel on Frank. Frustrated by this outcome, he decides to travel across the country and visit them — unannounced — one by one. His first stop is New York City to see David, who is an artist, but David is not at home, and does not come home. Frank moves on to visit daughter Amy (Beckinsale), who is an advertising executive — married and the mother of one boy. Lying ineffectively because she’s hiding bad news about David and about her marriage, Kate tells Frank that his visit was ill timed, and she hustles him out of town as quickly as possible.


Frank moves on to Denver, where, he mistakenly believes, son Robert (Rockwell) conducts a symphony orchestra. Robert also bluffs, says he’s about to leave on a tour, and gets rid of Frank — breaking his promise not to call ahead to sister Rosie (Barrymore), a dancer in Las Vegas with a couple of  secrets of her own. Rose gives Frank a warmer welcome, but this time he is the one who decides to cut the visit short because he lost a needed medication during a mugging incident on his travels.

What Frank’s children are keeping from him concerning David is made clear from early in the movie. What unfolds gradually as Frank sees through the lies his offspring tell him is that they and their mother systematically shielded him from bad news in the family while  he labored to support them by coating telephone lines with a toxic insulation.


The children also nurse a vague notion that Frank was a bit too hard on them when they were growing up, but this turns out to have been more complex than they describe.

De Niro is surrounded by talented actors in this film, but the movie also provides him with a low-key tour de force in which an aging man figures out who he has been and who he is going to be for the rest of his life. The children discover that Frank is  sharper than they gave him credit for, and he discovers that, as his children, they have fulfilled any worthwhile ambition he may have had for them.

“Everybody’s Fine” didn’t get a lot of attention, but De Niro did win the Hollywood Film Festival “best actor” award, and Paul McCartney’s original theme, “(I Want to) Come Home,” was nominated for several awards, including a Golden Globe.

Kate Beckinsale and Robert De Niro in a scene from "Everybody's Fine"



I suppose Kurt Cobain had it both ways — he was who he wanted to be, and he wasted the person he was, if such things can be measured by longevity alone. But it’s a little late to moralize about how his life was spent. Without intending it, although he might have enjoyed it, Cobain is at the center of a tempest in Aberdeen, Wash., his hometown. More specifically, a monument to the musician placed in a public park, and even more specifically, a word on that monument, has the pond stirred up.

The monument in question bears a picture of Cobain and seven quotes from him. “The duty of youth is to challenge corruption,” for instance. One of the quotes begins with the words “Drugs are bad for you ….” — a sentiment that should play well in Aberdeen, if you’ll pardon the stereotype. But the rest of that quote includes a word that shocks the sensibilities of some Aberdeenians, a word one seldom sees engraved on public monuments, the word, if you get my drift.



“I don’t like that word,” said one member of the Aberdeen governing body. “The city pays thousands of dollars a year just to remove it from our parks — painting and sandblasting.”

“The majority of the people who are going to make their way down there, it’s not like that’s the first time they’re ever going to see that word,” said another councilman, who was a founder of the official Kurt Cobain Memorial Committee in a city that appreciates Cobain’s talent and his contributions to music.

Language is so interesting. One word is widely regarded as offensive and another word that means precisely the same thing is fit to be pronounced in a middle-school sex-education class. It’s all in the connotation, isn’t it?

One night about 20 years ago a couple came to spend the evening with us and, on the way, they picked up a video — “Midnight Run.” While we watched, our female guest blushed and apologized profusely for bringing that movie, because she hadn’t expected Robert De Niro’s language which was laced with a word fit for — well, for a Kurt Cobain monument. Meanwhile, we all roared at that movie, which, thanks to De Niro and Charles Grodin, is one of the funniest of its kind ever made.



Years later, I watched that movie on television, and it wasn’t nearly as funny. That was partly because I had already seen it, but it was also partly because De Niro’s language had been dubbed out with language that sounded ridiculous coming from the mouth of such a character. It’s hard to know what to make of that. It’s only a word, after all, and people like De Niro’s character use it so habitually that they aren’t even aware of it. And yet, many of us, like the Aberdeen councilman, don’t like it and don’t want to hear it or see it cut into granite in a public park.

It’s one of those things that makes us human beings so fascinating.

The Los Angeles Times reported on the Aberdeen dispute and how it was resolved. The story is at this link:,0,19620.story