Steven Soderbergh’s And Everything Is Going Fine is an exhaustive tribute to the work and, by extension, the life of virtuoso monologist Spalding Gray. Impeccably researched and cut together, the film is almost exclusively built out of footage of Gray on stage or being interviewed. By “almost exclusively,” read 99 percent, with the other one percent consisting of Gray’s family photos. Not a single title or word of voiceover clutters the master’s endlessly engaging delivery of a fearless autobiography lived out loud, an old-school decision that makes this one of the more ambitious and brave documentaries in recent memory.
Soderbergh loosely follows the Bubble/The Girlfriend Experience line of his filmmaking to define yet another odd corner of cinematic experimentation. The film opens with Gray doing his thing. A breathless 89 minutes later, it ends with Gray having done his thing, the speaker’s thoughts dominating the viewer’s conscious in one grand, new, Soderbergh-created monologue about Gray’s turns in the theater, his discovery of the monologue form, and his struggles to cope with success and typecasting toward the end of his life. This rich examination of performance and creative nonfiction will become an essential academic document for any future Gray scholar.
An element is missing from And Everything Is Going Fine that keeps it from being a fully formed cinematic experience: the sense that Soderbergh did anything. This is not to say he didn’t edit or direct the film, which must have required an almost dictatorial hand on the wheel of organization and decision-making. No, he didn’t go out and find footage that needed to be found. Gray’s estates and various theater and television companies provided the bulk of his base material. He did not discover some great wrinkle of a great mind, mostly because, in his career, Gray steam-pressed out most every nook and corner of his world. What discovery there is in the movie exists purely in the cleverness of Soderbergh’s juxtapositions, itself no mean feat but enough to tip the scale of artifice one notch past completely full. You wonder whom the director is trying to prove as a master, Spalding or himself.
The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival runs from April 8 to 11.