And Everything Is Going Fine -- Film Review

A valuable coda to Spalding Gray's cinematic legacy, this doc doesn't have the pull of "Swimming to Cambodia" but should be embraced by those who followed Gray's career and were saddened by its early end.

AUSTIN -- Made almost exclusively from his own words, "And Everything Is Going Fine" nevertheless constructs an oral autobiography unlike those for which Spalding Gray was famous during his lifetime -- one bound together by no thematic conceit or metaphor-rich biographical episode, focused instead on capturing the full arc of the performer's life. A valuable coda to the storyteller's cinematic legacy, it doesn't have the pull of "Swimming to Cambodia" but should be embraced by those who followed Gray's career and were saddened by its early end.

Director Steven Soderbergh, who cast Gray in the feature King of the Hill and made the performance film Gray's Anatomy, digs through the archives here, drawing on often low-quality videotape of stage performance throughout Gray's career to stitch together a mostly linear narrative of his life. From his Christian Science upbringing in a Rhode Island clapboard house (when Gray says they kept garden tools in the barn out back, his accent makes it "God an' tools") to the aftermath of the 2001 car accident that began his decline, the film touches on Gray's family history, his unlikely introduction to the stage, the way constant self-exposure colored his personal relationships, and the turn his life took when he accidentally became a father.

Though some footage here comes from conventional interviews with questioners like Charlie Rose, most is excerpted from Gray's meticulously crafted monologues, and it's interesting for longtime fans to see facts treated not as build-up to a theatrical effect or as bits of emotionally charged stagecraft, but as objects of interest for their own sake.

The memories here range from the self-mocking and comic (the story of Gray's deflowering, delivered in counterpoint to a warbling classical LP) to the jaw-dropping -- like anecdotes about his mentally ill mother that both foreshadow her suicide and sow the seeds of Gray's own fascination with the subject.

One suspects Gray never would have chosen to write a front-to-back memoir like this one, but Soderbergh fills a need with this film -- stepping back from the self-told tales that sometimes revealed less than they appeared to, affording some perspective and satisfying our curiosity without dwelling on the morbid or voyeuristic.

Biography aside, the breadth of sources here also lets fans glimpse bits of Gray's performing career not contained in his previous films, reminding us that he was irreplaceable not because of his peculiar biography but because of his gift for transforming constant self-analysis into gripping and accessible theater.

Opens: Friday, Dec. 10

Venue: South by Southwest Film Festival
Production company: Twenty Pounder
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Producers: Amy Hobby, Kathleen Russo
Music: Forrest Gray
Editor: Susan Littenberg
No MPAA rating, 89 minutes

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