About midway through “Every Thing Will Be Fine,” James Franco’s Thomas is paying a visit to Kate, the mother of the little boy he accidentally struck and killed while driving on a cold winter’s night.
They’re outside, maybe 50 yards from Kate’s house. Kate asks Thomas to wait right there for a minute as she goes back into the house to retrieve something.
We wait, along with Thomas. After Kate hands him a book she wants him to read, Thomas starts walking down the long, long pathway leading away from Kate’s house. He walks and we follow, he walks and we follow — and it’s just as tedious as you might imagine.
Sorry about dragging you through a Pointless Cinematic Moment of Boredom, but that scene is indicative of the strange, detached, off-kilter nature of Wim Wenders’ “Every Thing Will be Fine.” It’s a well-photographed story with an intriguing setup, but soon we’re mired in a meandering, stilted story with forced dialogue and some surprisingly subpar performances from the talented cast.
Let’s start with Franco, who is capable of providing terrific laughs in films such as “The Interview” and “This Is the End,” and resonant dramatic work in movies such as “True Story” and “127 Hours.”
Thomas is a writer whose life unravels after that fateful night when his car strikes and kills that little boy. His already rocky relationship with his partner Sara (Rachel McAdams) bursts apart at the seams. He wallows in grief and self-pity, at one point carrying out a half-hearted suicide attempt that is filmed with such overwrought style, it almost seems like a comedy bit. His odd, distant relationship with his bitter father becomes even more strained.
Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Kate, the mother of that car crash victim, has another son, Christopher (played by Jack Fulton as a little boy and Philippe Vanasse-Paquet as a 12-year-old). She and Christopher go to church and pray for Thomas. After Thomas pays a visit to the scene of the accident, Kate and Thomas strike up a friendship of sorts.
We shoot forward in time. Now Thomas is a celebrated writer, in a relationship with Ann, the mother of a little girl. Thomas continues to wrestle with his regrets and has great difficulty expressing any true emotion. We wonder why Ann would want to spend any time with this self-absorbed, closed-off man, who’s never fully present in the moment.
Cue the intrusive murder-mystery type music by the normally reliable Alexandre Desplat — even though this is in no way a murder-mystery — as Thomas’ past reaches out and lands on his doorstep one day.
Other than the tense early scenes in the immediate aftermath of the accident, “Every Thing Will be Fine” remains curiously detached from its subject matter. It’s a cold film.
The story is set in Quebec. McAdams is Canadian-born (she grew up in London, Ontario), and it appears she’s going for a distinctly Quebec French accent, but it seems to come and go. She’s also saddled with a character whose every line sounds scripted. When Sara reappears after disappearing from the movie for a long stretch, it’s in regrettable, soap opera-level fashion. Like just about everything else in “Every Thing Will be Fine,” it just doesn’t quite jell.
IFC Films presents a film directed by Wim Wenders and written by Bjørn Olaf Johannessen. Running time: 119 minutes. No MPAA rating. Available on demand and opening Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.