What it's about:
After being involved in a tragic car accident that resulted in the death of a young child, author Tomas Eldan is forced to come to grips with what happened, even as his writing career starts to take off.
What we thought:
It's been a long time since a Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas; Wings of Desire) film has seen a cinematic release in this country but the extremely clumsily titled Every Thing Will Be Fine is far from his best work - even if it is, in some respects, quite representative of his enormous talents as a filmmaker.
Wenders has always made glacially-paced, elegiac films that are as much about simmering emotions and overall mood as they are about traditional plot mechanics so it's hardly the case that Every Thing Will Be Fine is a major departure for him. It's also every bit as gorgeously shot and evocatively scored as his very best work and even if his experiment with 3D effects doesn't yield particularly impressive results, it's still easy to get lost in the sheer artistry on display.
Sadly, while the film works brilliantly as an almost ambient experience, it falls shockingly flat as an actual film. It's plot is thread-bare, to be sure, but no more so than something like Paris, Texas and actually, despite its basic familiarity and simplicity, it's the sort of plot that could work as the perfect springboard for an intriguing character study, a mediation on the relationship between art and tragedy and, very simply, as a poignant and emotional movie-going experience. The problem is that Wenders gestures towards the potential of such a story but, thanks in no small part to a very stiff script by Bjorn Olaf Johannessen, they never amount to anything more than gestures.
Every Thing Will Be Fine is the very rarest of films: one that is genuinely too understated for its own good. Despite the strong cast led by James Franco, who once again proves just how serious he is about pushing himself as an actor, the performances are so controlled that they never really have a chance to breathe, let alone elicit any sort of real emotional reaction in the audience. Similarly, forget broiling emotions, the film is several dozen degrees away from emotions that so much as simmer. Subtlety is an under-valued virtue in cinema but unfortunately, in this case, Wenders goes right past subtlety and settles right into coldness and sterility.
The story being told here does require at least some emotional oomph to really work, but it also desperately needs something resembling a sense of humour too. It's a serious subject matter, to be sure, but with the utter lack of humour (save for a young girl who appears later in the movie and brings real light and vigor to the proceedings, albeit about an hour too late), these characters feel somehow less than human. No matter how good the cast, if the characters feel less like living, breathing human beings than as ciphers through which Wenders and Johannessen can explore their ideas about art, tragedy and the relationship thereof, it becomes incredibly difficult to relate to them, let alone to care about them.
But even then, as a purely intellectual exercise, it just doesn't ever quite work. The idea that tragedy sparks greater creativity is hardly a new one but there are fleeting moments where it actually seems like the film might have something to say on the subject. But they are just that: fleeting moments. What's interesting is that despite their obvious differences, Pixar's latest masterpiece, Inside Out, actually deals far more effectively with the idea that it's sadness, as well as joy, that makes one a fully rounded human being (and, therefore, a better artist). Way to much time is spent in Every Thing Will Be Fine on aimless conversations and broody mourning and not nearly enough on what is effectively the film's central thesis.
I hate to give a less than positive review to a film that is this well intentioned and this beautifully assembled but Wenders is capable of far better than Every Thing Will Be Fine and though I certainly eagerly anticipate whatever he does next, I can't in good consciousness actually recommend this on any level other than the purely artistic. But then, maybe that's enough?