It seems that wherever Andrew Jarecki goes, trouble follows.
Take the director’s first film, 2004’s Capturing the Friedmans. Jarecki intended to make a documentary about entertainers at children’s parties. While focusing on popular kids’ clown David Freidman, he discovered that brother Jesse and father Arnold has been convicted of child abuse. Jarecki’s audacious film went into great detail about the family, as Jarecki gathered testimonials from alleged victims and used incredible home movie footage to tell the unsavory true-life story. The film elicited controversy, an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary and a host of international awards in the process.
Since Friedmans’ release, Jarecki has had his share of difficulties regarding his feature film debut as well. All Good Things, now finally in theaters, is a true crime thriller that plays like a crackling mystery writer’s tale.
Here, Ryan Gosling plays David Marks, the son of hard-nosed New York real estate tycoon Sanford Marks (Frank Langella). David meets a college student named Kate (Kirsten Dunst) and, against his father’s wishes, marries her. As time moves on and Kate a pursues a career in the medical field, David becomes more emotionally unhinged, prone to unpredictable behavior and violent outbursts—Who says the rich have it easy? Eventually, she disappears, and unsettling things start to occur to other people close to David, as his behavior becomes increasingly unpredictable .
The film is based on the events in the life of Robert Durst, son of New York real estate magnate Seymour Durst, whose wife, Kathleen McCormack, vanished in 1982. The couple was married for nine years.
All Good Things, which takes its name from a health store the couple run in New England, has had a history of interesting events attached to it. The original distributor (The Weinstein Group) threatened to re-cut the film, and then left it sitting on the shelf because of financial problems. This prompted the frustrated Jarecki to buy the film back from the company to get distribution. A lawsuit from the Durst family threatened to halt its theatrical release. In the latter process of editing, Jarecki’s wife, Nancy, had a brain aneurism and three major operations in a month. And recently, after two prison stints (neither of which had anything to do with the disappearance of his wife), Robert Durst, now 67, endorsed All Good Things publicly.
Whew. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
But one wonders why Jarecki– whose brother Eugene Jarecki and step-brother Nick Jarecki also helmed the docs Why we Fight and The Outsider, respectively– decided to make his All Good Things a feature as opposed to a documentary?
“There were a lot of angles to aspects of this story,” says Jarecki, 46, during a stop in Philadelphia. “The story took place over 30 years –plus there’s his (the lead character’s) early life–and that’s what we address in the film. From our standpoint, the film is better told as a narrative.
“There’s lots of missing pieces and information. You know, there’s an opportunity to bring in actors to fill in the gaps in terms of the emotional relationships between these people. It wasn’t going to be a completely fact-based film where we’d say ‘On Oct 12, this happened…’ But by the same token, we wanted to do enough research where we could do that if it made sense.”
Jarecki is a Princeton grad and a sometimes musician who amassed a reported $400 million when he and his associates sold their invention MovieFone to AOL in 1999. He claims what he thought would be a daunting task in making his first film turned out to be not so difficult.
“I used to direct plays and I always felt very comfortable with actors,” he says. “Actors are hugely important to the process. Some people think actors are a necessary evil or something. You get smart actors and they get to know the characters better than you do (as a director). You want to appreciate that and hear them out and understand what they’re feeling about the character. I never thought I’d make one kind of film. It’s just about telling stories and finding the appropriate form for the stories, I guess.
“I would do a diorama if I thought it was a better way of conveying something.”
For Jarecki, what helped make the transition to features with actors easier was his fine cast. And, as luck would have it, he got his wish across the board in that department.
“I have to say that these three actors were first choices,” Jarecki says of Gosling, Dunst and Langella. “I didn’t know of anybody other than Ryan that can play that character with both lightness and darkness. He has a certain inscrutability and that’s what’s needed for this picture. You don’t get that with a lot of actors. “
Jarecki’s been an admirer of Kirsten Dunst for a long time. “I loved Kirsten as an actor,” Jarecki says of the actress who played the lead in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 Marie Antoinette but has been flying under the radar since 2007’s Spider-Man 3. “She’s been doing this since she was nine years old. She’s always been believable and energetic but didn’t have a real chance to show her acting ability—at least until this film, I think .
“This is the first movie she plays an adult. She’s very committed in all her work. Even in Spider-Man, I don’t think those movies work without her. She’s the stakes, the one we care about.
“Plus she’s a natural person. She kept her original teeth and she isn’t always buffed up to a perfect shine. She still has human qualities and I think she’s like the real Kathy Durst. They are similar in a lot of those ways. Kirsten’s from this small town in New Jersey (Point Pleasant), and Kathy was from a small town in Long Island. I showed the movie to close friends of Kathy’s and there was a feeling she was very much like the real person.
As for Langella, Jarecki considers the actor who has portrayed Dracula and Richard Nixon on screen as “the ultimate heavy in some ways.” But Langella, who Jafecki think brings a “special gravitas to the part,” initially turned the role of the powerful real estate broker down. “I remember my partners saying we should move on to someone else,” says Jarecki. “I said we don’t have to do that. He didn’t think there was enough there for him. There was a lot less of Frank in the first version of the movie. He felt we were giving the character short shrift, that he was just an outside force that put pressure on David (Gosling’s character). The role wasn’t as significant as it could have been. Frank and I did a lot of work to figure out what was missing for the character.”
Even though Langella wasn’t sold on the part, he showed up for rehearsals. And after a couple of lunches with Jarecki, the actor signed on.
Speaking of fathers, both of Jarecki’s films have dealt with uneasy father-son relationships and their harsh aftermath.
This makes one wonder what sort of relationship Andrew Jarecki has with his father, Henry Jarecki, a doctor, businessman, movie producer and philanthropist?
“I have a father who is similar (to Langella), who built his own business,” says Jarecki, who also produced the much-discussed, heavily scrutinized true-life film Catfish. “He doesn’t understand why I would want to start my own business. My father was a psychiatrist. He had a medical practice in New Haven and had dealings in gold and silver businesses. He became partners with a British trading company. This stuff shows up in the movie and Langella and I built a character around it.”
“There are some parallels. Everyone’s relationships with their fathers are different. My relationship with my father is a very warm relationship, considering he’s a guy who almost always gets his way, but he doesn’t always get that with me. You know we have a unique relationship because I’ve done things on my own, so [we] deal with other like peers as opposed to father and son. So my relationship has evolved.
“Frank (Langella) said, ‘This part is not hard at all. I just have to play my dad.’ His version of that character is his dad. “
As for Robert Durst’s positive response to All Good Things, Jarecki believes “He doesn’t agree with everything in the film, but he responded to it in an emotional way. But I don’t think we softballed it. We didn’t make a film that’s ambiguous for the sake of being ambiguous. We showed what we could show and what we felt comfortable showing.
“And I thought the stuff that wasn’t going to be shown or understood was to the film’s benefit. There are certain things that people will want to think about and mull over.”
Next for Jarecki may be a story that’s alarmingly close to him, a true-crime drama about his wife being kidnapped, which occurred years before they were married. Nancy Jarecki started the entertainment-oriented cable channel that became E! and now owns a company called Betty Beauty, which manufactures dye for pubic hair.
Like we said before—Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.
Here’s Irv’s review of the film: