MOVIE REVIEW: And Everything Is Going Fineby Jonathan Doyle
A tribute to late, great monologist Spalding Gray, And Everything Is Going Fine is one of Steven Soderbergh's most artful, enigmatic and humane films to date. Much more than a simple biography, this is a fascinating, multi-layered dissection of the past as seen from varying distances (both temporal and physical) and perspectives (both Gray's and Soderbergh's). Soderbergh foregoes interviews and allows the master storyteller to do most of the talking himself, but as Gray openly admits, many of his stories were exaggerated or invented outright. This ultimately makes for a peculiar, original and imaginative exercise in unreliable biography.
Much like My Dinner with Andre (Gray mentions Wallace Shawn at one point), And Everything Is Going Fine quietly leads the viewer into immense cerebral spaces. The same could be said of Gray's previous monologue films (Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box, Soderbergh's Gray's Anatomy), but this film has the added dimension of a secondary authorial voice, ordering these words without Gray's input. Gray's previous monologue films gave him an opportunity to order the chaos of his life. In his absence, that task is left to Soderbergh, who adds vast layers of meaning and complexity through his evocative editorial strategies.
By trying to apply order to the chaos of Spalding Gray's life, Soderbergh undergoes a creative process not unlike the one Gray describes when talking about the writing of his monologues. In both cases, the results are not remotely empirical, but remain fascinating because both Gray and Soderbergh are open to the poetic potential of their respective mediums. They also understand the impossible complexities involved in wrangling narrative from reality.
Soderbergh goes to great lengths to acknowledge the possible unreliability of his subject. Not only do we see Gray repeatedly questioning the veracity of his memory, but Soderbergh re-enforces this doubt by repeatedly using degraded, low quality video footage. The deterioration of the images onscreen emphasizes the elusive nature of memory and acknowledges the challenge of trying to find clarity in the chaos of Spalding Gray's muddled, semi-fictionalized past.
While much of this film's appeal comes from Gray's enthralling way with words, Soderbergh gives these words purpose and clarity by building a precise conceptual framework around them. You might not notice this while watching the film, but And Everything Is Going Fine is an intriguingly conflicted exercise in non-linear filmmaking. Even while adhering to a strict linear narrative -- we start with anecdotes from Gray's childhood and proceed through his life in chronological order -- the glimpses of Gray the storyteller take us back-and-forth in time, resulting in striking juxtapositions of age, physical condition and Gray's always unpredictable hairstyles.
Thanks to these two conflicting chronologies, the film works as both hyperbolic oral history and far-ranging visual chronicle of a life. Seeing Gray's mind and body go through so many dramatic shifts over the course of ninety minutes really plugs us into the riddle of the human experience. Are our young selves and old selves really the same person? Is our ignorance about the future a blessing or a curse? How does a person's death change our perception of their life? Watching this film, you can't help but plunge into the hyper-neurotic, existential panic that Gray was known for, as his is the only face onscreen for most of the film's running time (a similar strategy was used in Nénette, another Hot Docs highlight).
Soderbergh also playfully includes references to his own role in Gray's career. At one point, the frequently suicidal Gray explains the cathartic pleasure of playing a man who commits suicide in Soderbergh's King of the Hill, the cruel irony being that he once again fulfills that function here. But Soderbergh never lets clever ideas get in the way of the emotional connection that prompted him to make this film -- a labour of love that was five years in the making -- in the first place. Through a perfect harmony of ideas and emotions, Soderbergh has brought a new maturity to his work and crafted the haunting career summation that Gray never had a chance to craft for himself. Rating: 9.3/10