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Originally published Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 3:01 PM

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Movie review

'And Everything Is Going Fine': Spalding Gray at his eloquent, daring best in documentary

"And Everything Is Going Fine," a film tribute to Spalding Gray, is the artist giving a guided tour of himself, through a mosaic of clips from his shows and TV interviews, craftily assembled by Steven Soderbergh.

Seattle Times arts critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

'And Everything Is Going Fine,' a documentary directed by Steven Soderbergh. 89 minutes. Not rated; contains strong language. SIFF Cinema.

Saying the late Spalding Gray told stories is rather like saying Vermeer painted pictures. It just isn't sufficient.

Though he famously spun yarns in more than a dozen original one-man shows, some of them also committed to film, Gray was much more than a raconteur.

He was a consummate performer, an eloquent and daringly open memoirist, a hilarious social observer, a man as obsessively fascinated by his own psyche as Woody Allen, a lionized solo spieler who paved the way for David Sedaris, Mike Daisey and others.

That was the Spalding I knew, admired and miss. And he is recaptured in Steven Soderbergh's film homage, "And Everything Is Going Fine."

This is not a standard bio-documentary. It is the artist giving us a guided tour of himself, through a mosaic of clips from his shows and TV interviews, craftily assembled by Soderbergh (who earlier filmed a Gray solo piece, "Gray's Anatomy").

How can one man, sitting at a small desk, yakking endlessly about himself, be so thoroughly compelling?

Whether he's depicting his Rhode Island youth shattered by the suicide of his mentally ill mother, or his hilarious adventures as a journeyman actor in summer stock and experimental theater, or he's matter-of-factly copping to his neuroses ("I like telling the story of life better than I do living it"), this self-described poetic journalist is spellbinding.

The film focuses mainly on certain signposts in his development from a "shy, backward sort of guy" (as his somewhat amazed father describes him in a joint interview) to prized performer.

Some other pivotal points: Gray's chronicling of the Cambodian war (via his stint in Southeast Asia acting in the film "The Killing Fields"). His middle-aged delight in new fatherhood. (Gray's son, Forrest, composed some lovely music for the documentary.)

Finally, there is a poignant, achingly fragile Gray, reflecting on the car accident in Ireland that left him in constant pain and feeling "half dead."

"And Everything Is Going Fine" does not delve into Gray's 2004 suicide, which his widow, Kathleen Russo (a co-producer of the film), maintains resulted from that cataclysmic car crash.

We do hear Gray speak candidly about his mother's death, and his own fears of suicide. But there's also much here that evinces his fascination with and appreciation of life, and his uncanny ability to capture its contradictions, absurdity and joys in spoken word.

Nobody did it better.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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