A nominally straightforward drama about the reverberating sense of guilt and loss felt by writer Tomas Eldan (James Franco) after he accidentally runs over a child, Everything Will Be Fine is rendered insensible by bizarre and meaningless structural upheavals and thin connective tissue. Every time the film seems as if it’s about to develop one of its vague tendrils of drama, the action moves forward a few years and finds every existential question mostly settled, or at least sufficiently unperturbed. Instead of tracking the long-term effects of a tragedy, this narrative approach consistently pulls focus onto the bare essentials: that of Eldan’s career taking off while the dead boy’s mother, Kate (Charlotte Gainsbourg), sees her fortunes crumble.
The premise, of a terrible event unleavened by the easy out of someone being at fault, should be prime fodder for Wim Wenders’s brand of poetic regret. But the director has been running on fumes for years now, and the paucity of his ideas is encoded into every clumsy frame of his dull 3D compositions, which only reveal his keenness of imagination when regarding still life. That tendency toward visual stasis compounds the narrative’s arrested development, and it thwarts the actors, if they can be said to be trying at all. Franco, in particular, makes even his recent standards of blasé indifference look animated by comparison, never engaging with Eldan’s guilt or his attempts as the years go by to suppress and ignore it.
To be fair, even the most committed actor would struggle to make something out of a script abundant in pointless longueurs that drag out the drama while incorporating dialogue that overcompensates for these empty spaces by rushing to conclusions. This has the effect of forcing the actors to flatly announce their characters’ arcs, as when Eldan’s girlfriend, Sara (Rachel McAdams), attempts to console him over the accident and he diagnoses their relationship as doomed because, “I just want to write. You want kids, I don’t.” Later, after they break up and Eldan marries publishing staffer Ann (Marie-Josée Croze), the new couple also incongruously matches context with payoff when Ann calls out Eldan’s coldness not in relation to their many relationship troubles, but his total calm in assisting the victims of a carnival accident. It’s as if the entire script consisted of placeholder text connoting vague tone and summarized human conflict that someone mistook for a proper draft.
Only one scene in the entire film suggests any of Wenders’s erstwhile skill: a telephone conversation between Eldan and Kate that uses superimpositions and dissolves to elegantly bridge the two pained individuals’ sense of physical space to let their consolations bridge their emotional divide as well. Though the moment may seem like a mere shadow of the estranged couple’s confrontation from Paris, Texas, Wenders’s signature is still unmistakable here. For a few minutes, the film finds a sense of purpose and identity, but that only makes the remaining running time an even more tragic reminder of how far its maker has fallen.