By Christopher Bell | The Playlist December 6, 2010 at 3:46AM
Spitting out detailed and personal monologues in a sometimes-comfortable-sometimes-manic fashion, Spalding Gray was one of the most engaging talkers of our time. His minimalist style was deeply intimate, eschewing any kind of tool or prop in favor instead of spilling his guts out on stage. He quickly established such a connection with the audience (even going as far as interviewing audience members on stage) during his performances that calling it a "relationship" doesn't feel right -- "friendship" is a better word. Sadly, Gray took his own life in 2004 due to depression, and his absence is felt: there's not another performer like him out there, and it's likely that there never will be. The oeuvre he's left behind is a legacy; there are many writings but the printed word does no justice to his engrossing poise and voice. The best work was documented in four films "Swimming to Cambodia" (Jonathan Demme), "Terrors of Pleasure" (Thomas Schlamme), "Monster in a Box" (Nick Broomfield), and "Gray's Anatomy" (Steven Soderbergh), which capture his persona perfectly. Seeking to have a proper farewell, Gray's widow Kathleen Russo handed Soderbergh over 100 hours of video and he set out to cut an autobiographical tale told through many different Gray monologues and interviews. Behold the fruits of his labor, the 90-minute "And Everything Is Going Fine," an often hilarious and sometimes saddening final word from the late, great entertainer.
The film opens on an empty chair for a few moments before the performer takes his seat and begins the show. Aside from the overly literal interpretation of this -- that the director is placing the movie audience into the theater audience, making us wait for our show -- it also has a much more weighty feeling. In that very brief amount of time, the loss and longing are appropriately felt, and it sets the tone for the rest of the film. Sure, we have Spalding doing his usual schtick, but the finality of the movie is very much felt throughout, such as an anecdote involving his brother asking their Mom if death was "forever and ever." A less intelligent helmer would have dropped the ball and let it get much too depressing, but the ever-prolific Soderbergh instead maneuvers these feelings into a greater appreciation of Spalding's work. Just like the heavy metal band Cinderella once said, "You don't know what you got til it's gone."
Mashing various different monologues and interviews, Spud starts at his childhood and works through his years as a theater student, a struggling actor, a neurotic traveler, an unfaithful husband, and finally, a family man. Soderbergh's hand is light, allowing the various clips to tell the story without the crutch of narration or text interludes. Despite all the cutting among different times (some so radical that he jumps 10 years in age), the storytelling is seamless and it actually feels like something that was devised by the writer himself rather than being clever editing. What also helps is the impeccable flow, which never meanders but also never feels rushed -- it hits a good stride and keeps things consistent without faltering for a second.
Aside from being a solid closing chapter to his work (including a really poignant, beautiful ending that works in a musical coda by his son Forrest Gray), this is also probably the best film for a newcomer interested in checking out Gray's work. Past films have been relatively straightforward and, for better or worse, simplistic, focusing on the storyteller and refusing to jazz things up with fancy camera aesthetics. Of course, they are all solid works and very respectful, but some might be put off by the rather simple nature of the movies. "And Everything Is Going Fine" is also free of trickery in the same sense, but the way it bounces around various different moments and moods is much more welcoming and, if given a chance, is likely to turn new viewers onto his older work when they are accustomed to his behavior after watching the film.
The last portion of the film hones in on the man's car accident in Ireland, as he hobbles around on crutches but still manages to make show appearances with his family. Fans will already know at this point that he is depressed, but as a complex human being, he seems exactly the same. It's only in a very subtle moment that Soderbergh hints at the man's pain, where a woman asks Gray how he is doing and he sincerely replies "so-so." The honesty and choice of words is piercing, especially for such a throwaway question that most people (especially to strangers) simply reply "good." It's these moments that prove the film to not only be the best of its brethren, but also a great example of excellence in the medium.
"And Everything Is Going Fine" is a finely constructed film, when it could've so easily been a phoned-in effort or an exploitation of a tragic suicide, ripe for the tearjerker crowd. Gray fans will be head over heels and newcomers will enjoy this gateway into the rest of the man's universe, while both will enjoy the portrayal of the complexities of human nature that are often overlooked in this type of film. [A]