Spalding Gray had a knack for turning everyday life into art, not as hard-to-decipher poetry or visual expression, but as a free-flowing conversation that would pull you in, word by word, as piles of curiosity, recollection, and neuroses poured forth. A poetic journalist, his life was his material as he unabashedly flowed from happy reminiscences to pain and loss, dalliances with New Age medicine to life with a suicidal mother.
Since he reveled in the comedy of pain, it was easy to forget that it was, still, pain. After three years of struggling with the aftermath of a serious car crash in Ireland, Spalding Gray committed suicide, leaving a legacy of monologues and colorful yet frank recollections of his life. As part of her work to keep his memory alive, Spalding's widow Kathie joined forces with Steven Soderbergh -- who filmed the monologist for Gray's Anatomy -- to create a documentary of his life and thoughts, and the result is And Everything is Going Fine.
This time, Soderbergh doesn't have the opportunity to sculpt Spalding's story with a myriad of visual cues as he did with Anatomy. There are just piles of monologues and interviews -- Spalding sitting at that desk recollecting his life, Spalding rendering interviewers speechless with his candor, and Spalding becoming quiet and introspective in the aftermath of his accident. Eschewing style and ego, Soderbergh creates a biography that is autobiographical. Gray is the only one allowed to speak; there are no colleagues and friends gushing about their fallen friend, no larger-than-life revelations Spalding had kept hidden. Posthumously, he maintains control of his story.
Nevertheless, Soderbergh is also able to add context and depth by his placement of each clip. By laying out the recollections in a chronological manner, from childhood memories to final days, he creates a sense of Spalding's evolution, while revealing truth between the lines. We see the young boy overwhelmed by his mother's suicidal thoughts and the memory of her asking him how she should kill herself. We see him morph into a young performer invigorated by praise of his timing, and how that leads him to acting and ultimately, to working through his life in monologue. Setting the vocal word play and interviews side by side, we see how the message changes with time -- how Gray evolved as well as how he stayed the same.
It was truth, yet fiction, and Gray was keenly aware of this. In one scene, he discusses the round-about and funny way his father talked to him about sex. It is followed with an on-camera discussion between Spalding and his father, the young Gray asking his father whether he remembers that day the same way, or if Spalding had creatively exaggerated it in his memory. This moment speaks directly to the power of Gray's monologues. There wasn't a clear distinction between the story he would tell the audience and the story he'd remember -- the truth and the show. While he would craft every line, ultimately it was always grounded to his reality -- maybe not the complete truth, but definitely his own truth.
Since the film contains no voiceover backdrop, biographical trivia, or explanation, since it speaks only through Spalding, And Everything is Going Fine is not a definitive account of his life. We don't get the numbers -- the birthdates, the montages of early days, the context of the world around him. Instead we get something much more powerful -- something we're rarely awarded with after death. Instead of a comprehensive look completely removed from the subject, where one has to wade through nostalgia and filtered opinions, we're given Gray himself -- his feel, his verve, his liveliness. It's a gift to have so much first-person accounts to sift through, to feel Gray as filtered through Gray, not those who surround him. It's a great diving point to Gray's monologues -- Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box, Gray's Anatomy -- as well as a stepping stone to understanding the man behind the monologue and how he came to his tragic end.
Those final moments of his life -- when he connects with a random stranger also in pain, when he talks of his car crash in Ireland, when he's emotionally hit by the continual sound of a dog howling -- the reality behind his crafted message is revealed. Before it became comedy, the pain was true pain, and this last time, he didn't come out the other side to regale us in entertaining tragicomedy. But we do have this film, and for that I am grateful.