Tuesday, May 17, 2011

All Good Things

Normally, I don't go out of my way to watch movies that had almost nonexistent  theatrical runs because --- and we can debate the merits of the American theatrical release system another time --- movies that I've never heard of usually suck.  I made an exception for All Good Things because A) Roger Ebert listed it among his 20 best of 2010 and B) Ryan Gosling is supposed to be a pretty good young actor.  If I had put a little more thought into it, I probably would have skipped this movie because A) as much as I admire Ebert's ability to express his opinions, we frequently disagree and B) I've only seen Ryan Gosling in Murder By Numbers, so it's not like I have developed any loyalty toward the man.  And I saw that movie in a second run theater, and more because I could get free refills on a small pop and popcorn and less because of what movie was playing.  Side note: if you live in the Chicago suburbs, I highly recommend any of Classic Cinemas theaters; they're cheap, fun, and will probably be employing handicapped people, and it's nice to see a non-grocery store doing that, even if it means I have to wait longer for my change.  Anyway, back to All Good Things.

David Marks (Ryan Gosling) is an upper-crust kind of New Yorker, even if he doesn't like it; his father owns a lot of properties in New York's Times Square, so he's used to snotty white collar folk.  By a happy work assignment from his father, David is sent to fix the plumbing at a tenant's apartment; this is how David meets Katie McCarthy (Kirsten Dunst), a blue collar kind of gal.  Whether it's because he genuinely likes her, or because he knows it will piss off his father, Sanford (Frank Langella), David starts dating Katie.  The two soon move in with each other, move to Vermont and open a health food store (named "All Good Things"), and get married.  While he's emotionally mysterious, David seems to enjoy being around Katie and her family's friendly gatherings, instead of his family's icy passive-aggressive-fests.  But, thanks to pressure from his father, the couple moves to New York City and David joins the family business, which consists of him collecting rent (in cash) from his dad's pornographic Times Square (this was the 70s, after all) properties.
Look at the happy couple.
Are you interested in this movie yet?  No?  Neither was I.  I'll just cut to the chase.  After a few years of unhappy New York time, Katie starts to threaten to leave David.  Bingo, bango, bongo, Katie vanishes, never to be heard from again.  That's in 1982, after 10+ years of marriage.  Fast forward to 2000.  The New York District Attorney decides to reopen the Katie Marks disappearance case, and is very public about it.  Was this a case of foul play?  If so, what did David do to cover up the crime?  If not, why does this feel so much like a murder case?

All Good Things is based on the life of Robert Durst, which makes this one of those "inspired by true events" movies.   Like so many of those films, this one errs on the side of biopic instead of making a fully dramatic film.  This is the story of a guy who (maybe) killed his wife and the things he did to keep it covered up.
Yes, he dressed as the world's ugliest woman.
The problem here is with the "maybe."  Answers are implied and other things happen because of it, but there is no satisfaction to be found within the dramatic arc of this movie.  Why?  Because it does not frame itself as a murder mystery.  Instead, the question the audience is supposed to be asking is why David is such a dick all the time.  The answer deals with a childhood trauma, but that's not enough to explain his behavior.  David is an asshole, end of discussion.  And maybe he murdered some people.  For whatever reason, director Andrew Jarecki chooses to focus on the less compelling story (why David's an asshole) instead of who killed who.
Let's be honest...killing those crazy eyes is self defense.
 I wasn't terribly impressed by the acting in this movie, and that's too bad --- I assumed that, at the very least, this would be an acting tour de force.  Ryan Gosling is perfectly acceptable in this complex role, but he's never very interesting.  And that's not a good thing when your character is an emotionally crippled accused murderer that sometimes lives as a transvestite.  Kirsten Dunst surprised me with her performance; I normally hate her stupid sad face (which she wears in most dramatic scenes), but it somehow felt appropriate here.  She showed her boobies in this movie, which means that I have now seen the breasts that Spider-Man yearned for, and that geeky thrill might have ruined my objectivity.  Frank Langella does a decent job as a snotty "old money" patriarch, but he wasn't outstanding.  I wasn't exactly a fan of Lily Rabe's performance, but she played her annoying part well enough.  I was impressed by the dramatic turns from comedians Nick Offerman and Kristen Wiig; neither was astounding, but they were solid supporting actors, which is a huge first step for most actors that think they're funny.  I thought that Phillip Baker Hall gave the best supporting performance, but his surprisingly deep character was treated poorly by the script.
"Treated poorly?  Tell me about it.  I overdressed for this trash."
 I think my biggest problem with this movie is provided by the tag line: "The perfect love story.  Until it became the perfect crime."  If that's how you want to sell this movie, you damn well better make sure A) it provides a perfect love story and B) it provides a perfect crime.  All Good Things does neither.  David and Katie never really knew each other (they never even discussed children until well after their marriage), much less showed any convincing screen love.  As for the perfect crime, we never see it.  What an awful, awful tagline.

This movie fails in many different ways.  The acting, while okay, never demands your attention.  The story is surprisingly boring, given its sordid true-life origin.  What makes this movie even worse is that it is told entirely though a flashback, where David explains things to a courtroom, lead by John Cullum.  This could be a great story about the fallibility of the narrator.  It could be a totally respectable murder mystery.  It could even be a decent tale of a man who overcomes suspicious circumstances to prove himself innocent.  All Good Things does none of these.  In fact, I am hard pressed to find any of the good things this title promises.

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