Have you ever seen a movie that seems like it's going in one direction but ends up going in a completely different one? Well that is exactly what All Good Things is like. The movie that it started out as was quite nice. It reminded me a little of "A Beautiful Mind." The story of a sweet girl-next-door who falls in love with a promising yet troubled young man. Through the years, her love is able to help him find his sanity and overcome his mental instability. Like I said, that is the movie that All Good Things starts out to be. Then suddenly, it became something totally different, a crime thriller about a cross-dressing serial killer. That's right! I said, a cross-dressing serial killer! I think it's the films sudden and drastic turn that disappointed me because I really liked the film that I had been watching up to that point.
I understand that the film is based on a true story and I guess that gives the filmmakers an excuse but I was still disappointed with the overall movie. That being said, there were elements that I really enjoyed and the biggest one was actress Kirsten Dunst's performance. I haven't always been the biggest fan of Dunst and she certainly has taken a lot of unnecessary criticism over the years but in this role she really shines, which is a shame because the rest of the film just doesn't work. But maybe that is the beauty of her performance. She is so wonderful and likable in the role that we, as an audience, fall in love with her, which makes the tragedy that becomes her character that more devastating. Of course, an unintended result is that as soon as her character is missing from the storyline, you no longer care about the outcome.
You can tell that Ryan Gosling, who is a wonderful actor and someone I usually like, is honestly trying his best in this part but is buried by the troubled script. He does the best he can, portraying an older version of his character in very poorly applied make-up but the scenes never really ring true. The same goes for when his character becomes a cross-dressing serial killer. While you can tell that the actor is really working hard, the scenes are almost laughable and seem completely out of place in the story that I thought I was watching. Maybe that is what director Andrew Jarecki wanted. To make the audience confused and uncomfortable with what they are watching. But it is such a shame because I was really enjoying the movie before it took its wild turn. It feels like two or three different movies rolled up into one and it never really chooses which one it wants to be.
The movie is told in flashbacks from a murder trial where David Marks (Gosling), the son of a powerful real estate tycoon is testifying. The story is set in the '1980s and begins by showing us how David met his young bride, the sweet and beautiful Katie (Dunst). David's father, played by Frank Langella, is hard on him and does not approve of his marring Katie. Katie and David decide to pursue their dream of living a quiet life in the country, away from his father, so they move to Vermont. Eventually, things don't work out and David's father manipulates him into returning home and joining the family business. While Katie goes to medical school, their relationship begins to fall apart. As David slowly becomes more distant, his anger grows and Katie starts to suspect that there is something wrong with him. As David becomes more violent and controlling, Katie becomes distant until she eventually disappears without a trace. David soon disappears as well but takes on a strange new persona and an even stranger relationship with an older man played by Phillip Baker Hall. Eventually, the story catches up with the opening scene and we discover that twenty years later, David is on trial for Katie's death.
As I mentioned before, the film is based on a true story so I understand the filmmakers desire to include the whole story but I'm not sure if it helped the movie as a whole. Including the cross-dressing serial killer sub-plot takes away from the rest of the film and Dunst's wonderful performance. It even lessens the strong performance that Gosling was trying to give before the storyline went south. Again, I understand the impulse to include the b-plot but there have been many successful bio-pics in the past that have just left out subplots that do not help the primary story, such as "A Beautiful Mind," for example. That being said, I definitely give Jarecki a lot of credit for taking a big swing with the material and trying to tell a different kind of story. I just wish the film were a little clearer on which story it was trying to tell. In the end, All Good Things has a few good things about it but certainly not all. While its always interesting to see Gosling loose himself in a role, it is really Dunst that shines, in what may be her best performance yet.