A disheartening case of When Auteurs Go Affected, Every Thing Will Be Fine confirms that Wim Wenders — making his first dramatic feature since 2008's Palermo Shooting — is a filmmaker now light-years removed from his Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire heyday. Egregiously airless and artificial, Wenders's latest (written by Bjørn Olaf Johannessen) concerns Tomas (James Franco), a writer whose perpetually blank face suggests existential misery (or is it just sleepiness?).
It's unclear what country, or continent, Tomas lives in, but his unhappy life writing novels and being with girlfriend Sara (Rachel McAdams) is upset when he accidentally runs over the youngest son of a stranger named Kate (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Given Franco's one-scowl-fits-all countenance, however, the degree to which this tragedy moves Tomas is discernible only through dialogue in which his, Sara's, Kate's, and everyone else's emotions are stated in the absolute bluntest of terms.
Not to mention... (sigh)... that those feelings... (grimace)... are expressed in conversations... (sorrowful look to the heavens)... whose prolonged pauses... (gazing off into the distance)... turn the drama laughably pretentious. Every Thing Will Be Fine is torturously slow and hopelessly mannered. Its narrative gracelessness is compounded by the fact that it transitions from scene to scene with abrupt fades and leapfrogs years into the future at random-seeming intervals. Its every new scene is more nonsensical than the last, beginning with Kate inviting Tomas over to watch her burn a Faulkner novel (the one that, on the day of the accident, she was so consumed with reading that she forgot to pay attention to her kids) and culminating with a warm reunion-cum-reconciliation that's facilitated by one person peeing all over another's bed.
Wenders shoots in 3D — and crafts his compositions as self-conscious showcases. From pans across distant snowy landscapes behind wire fences to shots of his characters spied through doorways, windows, and glass partitions, the director makes his deep-focus imagery a look at the three-dimensionality! gimmick. A brief sequence of people on a carnival's elevated swing ride has a rich, colorful beauty. Otherwise, though, Wenders highlights foreground-background dynamics to ridiculous, seemingly pointless ends; when he shows us Tomas opening a letter, his body concealed by a semi-transparent wall and his hands visible in a hallway, it's as if the director is just looking for excuses to call attention to his special effects.
While Tomas and another boy speak like Americans, the women boast mismatching foreign accents, with McAdams — saddled in a role that's all wooden articulations of confusion and anger — sounding eerily similar to my eleven-year-old daughter's imitation of Rocky IV's Ivan Drago. Artificial in construction and execution, Wenders's nowheresville-set film never lucidly grapples with the issues of grief, guilt, loneliness, and fatherhood ostensibly at the root of its tale. Instead, it's a slog that plays like an unintentional parody of a Euro-arthouse drama, replete with some oh-so-glum shtick courtesy of Gainsbourg and a monotonous lead turn by Franco, who might one day need considerable Botox to erase all the worry lines engraved by this performance's incessant brow-furrowing.
Every Thing Will Be Fine
Starring James Franco, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rachel McAdams, Marie-Josée Croze, and Robert Naylor. Directed by Wim Wenders. Written by Bjørn Olaf Johannessen. Opens Friday, December 11, at Bill Cosford Cinema.