Movies about aging parents worried that the world has passed them by are apparently (and ironically) an evergreen. If the title of Zhang Meng’s Everybody’s Fine sounds familiar, it’s probably because this is a remake of a twice-told story: Giuseppe Tornatore first made his family drama in 1990, with Kirk Jones bringing it stateside (and casting Robert De Niro as the lead) in 2009.
Zhang’s take on the golden-years material moves the action to China, where widowered retiree Guan (Zhang Guoli) contemplates his nonexistent family life, but the third time isn’t the charm. Guan’s home feels deceptively vibrant and lived-in from the opening scene; full of bright colors and wandering pets, it belies the patriarch’s acute loneliness. When we learn that he’s preparing for an annual visit from his adult children — who call in quick succession to cancel as he’s cooking their favorite dishes — it’s easy to wonder if the dog, cat, fish, chicken, and talking bird are longtime residents or new additions meant to compensate for the absence of Guan’s children and wife.
But anyone hoping for the understated yearning of something like Hirokazu Koreeda’s Still Walking will be disappointed by Zhang’s frequent saccharinity. This is very much a trip down memory lane — every time he sees one of his children, Guan imagines them as the sweeter, more affectionate children they once were — but also another trip to a well that, though not empty, requires a more nuanced approach to draw from it anything fresh.
Directed by Zhang Meng
Cheng Cheng Films
Opens January 29, AMC Empire 25