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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

All Good Things

Relationship Therapy: Jarecki Leaves Viewers Hanging with Haunting Mystery that Lingers

Andrew Jarecki made his mark on the documentary scene with his 2003 film Capturing the Friedmans, an uncomfortable look at a suburban Long Island family in the 1980s, where the father and son were on trial for child molestation. The film was made up of many home videos, both happy family videos and recording their tribulations during the trial. For such a normal-seeming family, it seemed a mystery as to whether these two men could commit these horrible crimes, and these accusations tore the family apart.

Jarecki, himself having grown up in a patriarchal family of privilege with expectations of maintaining that class, continues on this theme of family dysfunction with his narrative feature debut, All Good Things, based on the on the life of Robert Durst, a real estate heir who has been the main suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack, since 1982. Their marriage was a meeting of old money and middle-class suburbia, but Durst’s growing hatred of being guilted into the family business, along with his alienation from his career-minded wife, led to tragedy and a fractured existence. The film even opens with a series of 1950s home videos portraying the seemingly happy life of young Durst (fictionalized as David Marks here), frolicking around with his mother before she later commits suicide in front of him.

David Marks (Ryan Gosling) meets his future wife Katie McCarthy (Kirsten Dunst) by chance when he is sent over to fix her sink in the early 1970s. They’re an amiable couple, but David’s father, real estate scion Sanford Marks (Frank Langella) personally lets him know that Katie will “never be one of them.” Katie comes from a happy suburban family in Long Island, where everyone jokes around and displays love and affection. David has grown up in a family of locked-away secrets, fake happy faces, and a reticence of true emotion. Katie’s joie de vivre allows him to shed his family’s conservativeness, and to break away from the pack to start a new life with her.

But, despite a brief life running a health food store together in Vermont, the security and safety of Marks’ wealthy family proves too good to give up. It also seemed positive for Katie, because his wealth would open more opportunities for her in Manhattan, than had she stayed home in Long Island. They were attracted to each other’s differences, but the marriage would only turn volatile and uneasy to escape.

The events of the film are shot with a soft-focus lens by D.P. Michael Seresin, not only mimicking the washed-out look of 1970s films, but also firmly keeping the events in the past, like bad memories. The film looks like privileged glamour with a rotten core at its center. It was a time where, given that there was less surveillance and certain issues were not spoken of (mainly abuse, eating disorders, depression, abortion),the beauty of the upper-class set only looks more like a prison, from which if you wrong the family, any chance of you developing an independent life is thwarted by their patriarchal control.

David is a danger to himself, because of his family history, yet he cannot push himself to change his future for the better. He has been raised to not talk about certain things, especially speaking to an “outsider.” Even Katie doesn’t know all about his family’s personal life, she only finds out things by accident. As David works more for his father, his once loving heart is replaced with a cold stone, and, he takes his frustration out on Katie. Katie uses her societal advantages to pursue a medical career, but David can’t stand her having kind of independence, and continually thwarts her chances.

Jarecki’s film accurately displays how an emotionally abusive marriage is not easy to break away from, and how it can be even worse if the victim tries to escape, only enraging their abuser even more. There is a sequence in the film where David forces Katie to make a critical decision that she doesn’t agree with, but, because her body is as much David’s as it is hers, she has no choice in the matter. David is to support her at the moment when this decision is made, but at the last minute bails, leaving her to face this agonizing choice alone. It’s a chilling and heartbreaking scene of control and emotional manipulation, and Dunst, breaking away from the young girl roles she has played well into her twenties, delivers this scene with anguish and a deep hatred of her husband. All Good Things details the downward spiral of a person’s dreams shattering, giving up their dreams in exchange for the safety net of money, only to resent themselves and take it out on the world. It’s a dangerous trap, and what happens when power is put in place of love. Gosling delivers a chilling performance as David Marks, a shell of a man whose emotions are kept locked inside of him, his humanity drained out of him until there is nothing left. Dunst finds a mixture of vulnerability and strength in Katie, maintaining to stay alive in an unstable marriage. Jarecki’s intimate focus truly makes All Good Things one of the more realistic depictions of domestic abuse and the corruption of power and money.

Reviewed by Melissa Silvestri
Date Posted: 2010-12-03

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