“Are you happy?” That’s really all Frank Goode wants to know. His children, all grown and with lives of their own, have always kept in touch with their mother. Now that she is dead, Frank wants to be part of their lives.
Everybody’s Fine opens with an abortive reunion. Frank is making plans for all the children to be home around the same table again, but they all cancel at the last minute. So Frank, in spite of medical problems, sets off on a road trip to visit each one: David, an artist in New York (who isn’t home); Amy, an advertising executive in Chicago; Robert, a musician whose orchestra is performing in Denver; and Rosie, a dancer in Las Vegas. It turns out that Frank’s idea of what is going on in their lives is a bit rose-colored. They have been hiding all their pains from him. He remembers back to their childhood and how he taught them all to work hard and to strive to make him proud. Perhaps he was a bit hard or distant, but overall he is a loving father who cares about his children and their happiness.
There is a crisis going on that the children know something about, but is unknown to Frank. They keep passing him off from one to the next as they try to deal with David’s absence. Frank can tell that something is amiss, but doesn’t understand what. As we watch Frank interact with his children, we begin to see that they are hiding things from him. Their lives are not the lives he thought they were living. So his wondering about their happiness becomes central.
Happiness is hard to get a grip on. If you don’t realize your dreams can you still be happy? Frank knew all his children’s dreams and thinks they are living out those dreams. Perhaps they are, but not quite as they had pictured those dreams. Is Frank proud of what they have made of their lives? There are times we wonder if he is so tied to the fictions he’s been living with that his children’s real lives may be a disappointment. But the journey that this road trip represents is his chance to come to terms with that reality.
For the most part this is a fairly commonplace scenario. As children grow up and leave the nest, they may not feel the need to confide all their problems with a parent. They are adults now. They are independent. That doesn’t, however, mean that the parent no longer cares or worries about them. The Goode children each have issues in their lives, which in the past they shared with their mother. Now they don’t know how to connect to their father. But they all, except for one, have found their own happiness. It may not be the happiness that Frank thought they had, but their lives are finding fulfillment.
The one who didn’t find happiness is where the crisis comes into the story. That crisis eventually leads Frank to come to terms with what his role with his children has been and how it can change.
The story is just a touch on the schmaltzy side. It becomes a bit predictable at times and needlessly tugs a bit at the heartstrings with Frank’s health. If you’re willing to overlook such flaws, you’ll probably find Everybody’s Fine an enjoyable, possibly heartwarming family drama.