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A Cloud Of Gloom Over 'Every Thing Will Be Fine'

Charlotte Gainsbourg as Kate and James Franco as Tomas in a scene from <em>Every Thing Will Be Fine</em>.
Courtesy of IFC Films
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Kate and James Franco as Tomas in a scene from Every Thing Will Be Fine.

[A note: This film was shot in 3D, but will undoubtedly be seen by many in 2D. We have a review of the 3D version from when it played at the Toronto International Film Festival; this review is of the 2D version, which may, particularly over time, be much more widely accessible.]

"I'm in the final phase of my novel and can't risk becoming emotionally unstable."

That gem of a line, perhaps the best worst excuse for avoiding human interaction ever spoken, comes out of the mouth of a morose writer named Tomas two-thirds of the way through the earnest but painfully limp drama Every Thing Will Be Fine. Is he being serious? James Franco, who plays him, certainly is: the actor comes armed with the familiar scowl he employs for his downbeat work. And director Wim Wenders is also quite serious about the emotional weight of this project, so much so that he devoted a third dimension to the process (more on that later).

So it's on us to realize that line makes no sense, not when it won't invite us to laugh, and not when it's coming from a guy we're supposed to have developed affection for. That lack of awareness is reflected back on the film. Over a decade's worth of stilted conversations, Every Thing apparently can't risk becoming emotionally unstable, which means it can't give much emotion at all.

We open in a rough and snowy Quebec winter, where Tomas, struggling with his latest novel and driving across slippery unpaved roads, accidentally collides with and kills a boy on a sled. The boy's brother survives; his single mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) seems to bottle up her emotions pretty quickly, all things considered. Her quick healing process makes it easier for the movie to focus on Tomas' emotional wreckage instead, as we follow him through 12 years of mostly limited insight. He halfheartedly attempts suicide. He ends things with his girlfriend (Rachel McAdams, struggling with a French Canadian accent and a woefully underwritten role). His new novel, propelled by a darkness he lacked in his earlier work, is a big success. And he grows close to another single mother (Quebec is full of them, apparently), yet he can't shake the cloud of gloom that hovers over everything.

Neither can we. That cloud of gloom is perhaps necessary for a film of this subject matter, yet there it is always, glooming up the frame. Tomas returns to the scene of the incident several times, staring into the distance while the mother tries to assuage him of his guilt. These sequences are meant to be contemplative, but they just feel thin, and the jumps through time arbitrary.

Screenwriter Bjørn Olaf Johannessen is taking the snapshot approach to a life, but when Franco has the same demeanor after eight years as he did when he started, we've learned little. When the surviving brother, who's aged into a teenaged troublemaker played by Robert Naylor, re-enters the picture, his aggressive awakening meets only stoic indifference from the rest of the cast.

Wenders has long been a master of the meander, having distinguished himself with leisurely plotted road movies like Paris, Texas. His first dramatic film in seven years happens to arrive shortly after the five-hour director's cut of his 1991 future-shock epic Until the End of the World, recently released for the first time in the U.S. That's unfortunate timing, because the 24-year-old film is truly remarkable: a grand vision that knows how to take its time, elevating aimlessness to apocalyptic heights. But you need a particular alchemy of mood and character to make so much nothing feel so urgent, an alchemy missing from Every Thing. It creaks along the years with little to show for all that time—except an Alexandre Desplat score that repeats the same 13 notes ad nauseum, thereby fitting the film a little too well.

In a recent development for the German New Wave pioneer, Wenders has become one of the biggest champions of 3D, employing the technique in unnatural forms. His documentary Pina used the added dimension to great effect in its dance choreography, and here he's trying it out on a melodrama, much as Gaspar Noé recently attempted the same for erotica. The 3D may be quite effective, but those who see Every Thing the way I did—in 2D—will mainly notice the unusual framing, with many shots foregrounding objects and nature at the expense of the actors. It's much more distracting than the typical 2D versions of 3D movies, because we know how auspicious the decision was. Wenders is bending over backwards to add the very thing this film is most in need of: depth.

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