Lilah Fitzgerald and James Franco in Every Thing Will Be Fine.
The film: Every Thing Will Be Fine (2015)
Does Montreal play itself? It’s more accurate to say that the Greater Montreal area plays itself, but basically, yes.
Notable local talent: A lot of the cast is local, the most prominent among them being Marie-Josée Croze, Céline Bonnier (as a cop) and Robert Naylor. Weirdly, Rachel McAdams affects a not-too-convincing Québécois accent for reasons that are not too clear, while Gainsbourg (who can presumably do both) sticks to her British accent. Belgian character actor Patrick Bauchau plays James Franco’s character’s father, and sticks to some sort of pan-European accent. Every Thing Will Be Fine is a co-production, and wears that crown proudly. (The weirdest – and admittedly unverified – cameo is probably FNC head honcho Claude Chamberlan, a long-time friend of Wenders’. He appears in the film’s first scene as an ice fisherman in a longshot. He’s credited as Claude Chamberlain, but given his longstanding relationship, it wouldn’t be so surprising.)
Most egregious local landmark: A lot of the movie is spent indoors or in the country, but there are plenty of opportunities for local colour in the film’s decade-long span. Franco’s character is shown exiting a reading at Port de Tête on Mont-Royal; his apartment is somewhere in Mile End before he moves the family down to Longueuil (presumably for the dope Montreal landscape shots the waterfront allows). Le Moyne d’Iberville school is spotted in the Longueuil segments, as well as at least two different parks by the river. Franco and Croze eventually attend a Patrick Watson concert at Théâtre Outremont, and a scene late in the film happens in the brutalist wasteland of Viger Square.
It had been eight years since Wim Wenders had made a fiction film when Every Thing Will Be Fine was released in 2015. His previous effort, Palermo Shooting, had been received so coldly on its festival run that I’m still not sure it got any kind of release outside of its native Germany. Wenders is no stranger to high-profile wipeouts, however, and he bounced back soon after with the acclaimed documentary Pina.
That film saw Wenders explore the possibilities of 3D in the same way that other venerable masters (Godard, Scorsese) were at the time – and clearly the film’s success gave him the wild idea to make his next narrative feature in 3D. Every Thing Will Be Fine is one of a very small handful of films made in 3D that’s also pointedly not a grand spectacle. Someone had to try to make a heady, restrained 3D drama at the height of the 3D boom – it’s just too bad it was Wenders, and it’s just too bad it wound up being this movie.
There are movies that simply do not feel like they should be filmed at all. Movies focusing on writers are particularly guilty of having the instincts of the written form and finding them trapped within the structures of the filmed form. These are movies that, as compelling as their narrative might be, find themselves handicapped by the visual nature of cinema. I’m not saying that Wim Wenders’ Every Thing Will Be Fine is so misbegotten that it should never have existed at all – but I am saying that it might have been better told with black ink on white paper… and certainly not in 3D.
James Franco plays Tomas, a writer struggling with writers’ block who has exiled himself in the country, away from his girlfriend Sara (Rachel McAdams), in order to finish his book. Driving back to her one night, he accidentally runs over a small boy sledding down a hill with his brother. That second of inattention goes on to define his entire life, shattering his relationship with Sara and bringing him in contact with the boy’s mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) over the course of the next decade.
The first scene of Every Thing Will Be Fine is beautifully directed; powerful yet restrained, it hangs on suggestion rather than maudlin sentimentality. It’s one of the best things Wenders has done in years, if not decades – but it’s all downhill from there as Wenders and cinematographer Benoît Debie struggle to capture emotions in images. The script (by Bjorn Olaf Johannessen) is clunky and stilted, forcing unnatural ESL dialogue into the mouths of actors who can’t quite make it pop off properly. The beauty of the written word is that you can be as florid or as wooden as you like and call it style; when real people with flesh stuck to their bones and blood coursing through their veins have to make that dialogue sound like it may reasonably have happened in the real world, you don’t have that luxury.
Of course, naturalistic performances aren’t the end-all, be-all of cinema – there are plenty of filmmakers like Lynch or Bresson that revelled in deliberately flat, purposefully unrealistic performances in their films – but those films don’t tend to be mopey. Every Thing Will Be Fine desperately lacks an internal life for its characters; they sound like animatronic robots when they talk, and they mopingly look out of windows when they don’t. Johannessen spares us the ponderous first-person voiceover (its presence in mopey dramas about rich white writers struggling with the feels is deep and unforgiving), but with nothing to take its place, the film becomes a whole lot of James Franco in a brown sweater staring at either the horizon, a book, a beer or the floor.
I never did see the film in 3D, but it’s pretty obvious that it was shot expressly for the format. Establishing shots often linger longer than necessary, slowly panning over to reveal various depth elements. Wenders sometimes pauses for way too long on a common object like a teapot, and the film has a few egregious bits of greenscreen that are clearly meant to have an effect that’s more or less lost in 2D. The film is frequently gorgeous thanks to Debie’s deft hand (he also shot Spring Breakers, Ryan Gosling’s Lost River and most of Gaspar Noé’s films), but the material really does not call for visual pyrotechnics and what remains left over from the 3D projection is awkward and obvious. The 3D is by far the most daring and formally experimental aspect of Every Thing Will Be Fine, but it doesn’t amount to much when the drama is this strained and static.
In his (generally positive) piece over at RogerEbert.com, Glenn Kenny calls Wenders “a 100-per-cent sincere filmmaker”; it’s actually this sincerity that makes Every Thing Will Be Fine so frustrating. Wenders’ approach to this clumsy material is completely naked and unadorned yet somehow portentous — it’s a movie that feels both chillingly austere and like a really shitty soap opera. It’s often said that a bad comedy is much worse than a bad drama because a comedy that fails to get any laughs fails to get anything at all. Faced with the prospect of this bad drama, though, I have a hard time seeing the difference. ■
Read about more films Made in MTL here