All Good Things not really a good thing

Ryan Gosling’s latest, costarring Kirsten Dunst and Frank Langella, isn’t really good. It kills me to say that. I love Gosling. I love him so much not even his recent alleged dalliance with Blake F*cking Lively can kill my quiver for Gosling. You KNOW it hurts me to judge Gosling and find him less than. But there’s no getting around it. All Good Things isn’t good. And it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Dunst and Gosling both give acceptably good performances and Langella is as good as he always is as the emotionally distant father, Sanford, of David Marks (Gosling) a New York real estate heir who flounders through life. Sanford wants David to shape up and join the family real estate empire but David would rather move to Vermont with his pretty young wife, Katie (Dunst), and run a health food store. Langella does a great job combining Sanford’s seemingly real liking of Katie while simultaneously belittling her as “not one of them”—i.e., wealthy like the Marks family. Dunst plays Katie as a free spirit but it feels kind of flat, like Dunst is just treading water. It gets a bit better as Katie sinks into emotional despair as her marriage to David falls apart, but it’s still a remote, inaccessible performance. We just never care much about Katie, even though we know she’s struggling and we should have sympathy for her. Those actual emotions never actualize, though.

Gosling has “handsome but creepy loser” down pat but his work as David isn’t as exciting and engaging like he was in Lars and the Real Girl. He gives David a disconcerting habit of blinking too hard behind his glasses, but despite the entire story setup screaming, “David is disturbed and will do terrible things!” he just comes across as mopey and irresolute. When David does burst into violent rage, it is so far out of the character Gosling has established that it feels false. Dunst and Gosling don’t generate much chemistry (why exactly David and Katie fall in love is mysterious), but they work nicely together as scene partners and the devolution of David and Katie’s relationship injects some badly needed tension between them.

The acting, though not the best work any of them have done, is not the problem. The acting is actually the only thing that made All Good Things watchable. The central problems lie at the door of director Andrew Jarecki (the award-winning documentarian behind Capturing the Friedmans) and the script by Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling (both first-time feature film writers). The scripting problems mostly derive from the filmmakers’ attempt to “solve” the Robert Durst case—a real life missing persons and murder story that is so weird it’s like a gift made just for Chris Hansen.

In the 1970’s New York real estate heir Durst married Kathleen McCormack who disappeared in 1982. She was never found and the case remains unsolved; Durst was questioned but never charged. In 2000 Durst’s college friend, Susan Berman, was murdered in California. Again, Durst was questioned but not charged. Berman was murdered within days of being approached by a New York DA who wanted to talk about McCormack’s disappearance, but a connection between that and Berman’s death was never made. Also, Jarecki and his team totally ignore that the real Berman was a mafia princess who openly discussed her suspicions about her mother’s death and who wrote about life in the mob. Then in 2003 Durst was again implicated in a death—he went on trial for the murder of his neighbor, Morris Black. Durst was acquitted on grounds of self defense.

Robert Durst’s story is fascinating, the unsolved disappearance of his wife is intriguing—I grant you all of that. It’s easy to see why Jarecki was hooked. But then he goes on to try and solve all of this and in so doing he renders the characters uninteresting. It’s too clinical and procedural—Jarecki may as well have just made a documentary. And his direction doesn’t help with too many static scenes and a paint-by-numbers approach to staging and framing. The overall darkness of the lighting and tones of the production design combine with an overwrought score to give everything a melodramatic pall that kills any energy the actors are generating.

This movie isn’t terrible. It’s just forgettable.

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