Thursday, January 20, 2011

Everybody's Fine (2009): review: 3/10; table manners in American films

A retired widower attempts to visit his grown children, travelling across the USA, to discover that he has been given a false immpression of their lives.

The films contains elements of the road movie, and is a sort of right of passage film, showing shifts in attitude and expectation  taken by different generations.  The film is also, I suspect, about American decline and disappointment, as Americans learn to live with diminished world status and reduced  individual chances of achieving the American Dream.

The film offers glimpses of these themes, but does little to grapple with them, instead washing us over with sentimentality, providing lazy solutions to the various relationship crises described. All this is underscored by syrupy music.


As so often in American films, the characters have terrible table manners, speaking with their mouths full and biting food off the prongs of their forks with their moths open, leaning over their plates or slouching with their elbows on the table (Julia Robets is particularly guilty of these offences). In "Everybody's Fine" the dismal manners of a brattish child become a focus for one of the conflicts in the film.

These atrocious table manners can be seen in films showing Americans of all social classes, but seem most striking among their middle classes. It's a form of arrogance: they think that because they are wealthy they are above regarding the feelings of others and has a sartorial equivelent in the way they inisistantly dress casually even in formal situations. However, they haven't yet started, I think, to swear as is now common among the British upper middle classes (see the Guardian Newspaper)- or maybe they have, but it is censored from films.

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