‘Every Thing Will Be Fine’
Wim Wenders
Stars: James Franco, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

Wim Wenders’ new drama “Every Thing Will Be Fine” practically begs you to hate it. It’s painfully slow, for one thing. It’s in 3-D, for reasons not easily deduced. It has James Franco delivering a performance so sleepy it wouldn’t be surprising to learn he doesn’t remember filming it. And it sets you up, almost masochistically to expect something else — a serious, intense exploration of guilt and remorse along the lines of “In the Bedroom,” only told from the perspective of the murderer. 

But it has a vague idea of why it should exist. For one thing, in this case the killer didn’t mean it. “Fine” opens uncannily like Wenders’ recently revived 1991 great “Until the End of the World,” with Franco’s Tomas — one of those anguished novelists who lets work ruin relationships — awakening in a communal setting, stumbling into his car and soon getting into an accident that will kick the story into action. Unfortunately, Tomas’ collision involves hitting a young child somewhere in snowy, rural Canada. He was distracted, by a not-yet-lit cigarette, by persistent calls from his angry girlfriend (Rachel McAdams). But he doesn’t tell that to the cops nor to Kate (Charlotte Gainsbourg), the boy’s distraught mother.

We might expect some powder keg situation, and the Bernard Herrmann-esque score, by Alexandre Desplat, suggests a Hitchcockian thriller a-brewin’. But the script, by Bjorn Olaf Johannessen, keeps going other places. Kate and Tomas meet months after the accident, and she tells him she forgives him. She still acts erratically, if not irrationally, keeping tabs on him and sometimes calling him in the middle of the night for sometimes confessional, sometimes philosophical chats. Tomas goes from a so-so writer to an acclaimed author, seeming to use the tragedy as a muse. Kate’s other son (eventually played by Robert Naylor) grows up and looks like he may be less charitable towards Tomas than his mother.

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Wenders, one of the shining beacons of the German New Wave that blossomed in the ’70s, has  always tried to test himself, sometimes finding the movie he’s making as he’s making it. In his most cherished work he hit the road, coming back with the likes of “Alice in the Cities” and “Kings of the Road.” Sometime in the ’90s Wenders’ fiction work sagged, turning listless and malformed, while his documentaries (including, recently, the 3-D “Pina” and “The Salt of the Earth”) became thrilling. 

You can sense him searching for the movie in “Fine,” and occasionally he finds nuggets. Kate proves a fascinating character, in part due to Gainsbourg’s unpredictable, sometimes unreadable turn, and in part because she only crops up occasionally. When she does her beliefs appear to have evolved, as would happen to a real person mired in grief. She provides one of the more lived-in details: that she blames not just herself for not spying on her kids before the accident, but the book she was reading. “He writes too well,” she says — a sign that this shambling film can sometimes, however briefly, turn razor sharp.

But more often Wenders doesn’t find the movie. Part of that has to do with Tomas as a protagonist, whose emotional remoteness is theoretically interesting for a film like this — especially once it becomes apparent he may be at least partially a brooding sociopath — but also robs the film of any kind of narrative drive. Time, and the film, just putters along, years passing, usually in abrupt “x years later” fades to and out of black. It periodically threatens to find focus, only to lose it. 

That’s a lot like life too, but it can be hard rallying for a movie this clumsy, riddled with go-nowhere scenes, poor dubbing, stiff, possibly mis-translated dialogue, one truly grating child performance and all-over-the-place accents. (McAdams appears to maybe, perhaps be playing French-Canadian, but she sounds like Tiny Tim.) More charitable viewers may struggle along with it, giving it the benefit of the doubt, expecting it to at least stick the landing. And then, in its final, Oprah-esque moments, it crashes. 

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