Dayton, Ohio: the birthplace of controlled flight, once the inventors' capital of the world, the city of three rivers. We’re Doing Fine is a film about two people from this city.
Gertie sees the world around her in a kind of glowy light. Dayton is her city, and its streets, rivers and people are beautiful. Her mother is a protector, a source of comfort and acceptance. Pain and suffering can be explained by Bible stories and by the Latin American folktales of her youth. But lately, cracks have opened in Gertie’s world. Her mother, Rosa, is newly remarried and has put Gertie’s childhood home on the market. Her pastor has advised her to leave the church, to strike out on a new spiritual journey. And Gertie’s great project—a collection of hundreds of stories and drawings tying together Christian theology and ancient folktales— is growing longer and longer–a project without end. Gertie is at a crisis point. She wants to stand still, but her world won’t let her.
In many ways, John is the opposite of Gertie—he fled Dayton as soon as he could to create a brand new life. John now works and lives in a “real” city, San Francisco. His one lingering duty drawing him reluctantly back to his hometown is his father, Ray--ailing, alcoholic and depressed. His visits are brief, only long enough to set his father back on a discernible path to health. When news of Ray’s admittance to the VA Hospital brings John home again, he dives into this trip with a cold and practiced precision, prepared to stay only as long as necessary. But this trip is different. Ray is dying.
At the VA Hospital, John observes Gertie reading to a group of catatonic veterans. She’s secretly reading her folktale project, which John mistakes for bible stories. It’s one of many pieces of evidence for him that this place he is from is woefully backwards and hopeless. Blinded by both his grief and his sense of superiority, he navigates his environment carelessly. John finds himself reverting back to a version of his angry teenager self and sets off on a path to alienate all those that both care for him and also call Dayton home. In a chance encounter at a convenience store, John, drunk and reckless, confronts Gertie about her “evangelism,” who is frightened by this accusation from a stranger.
A day later, hungover and depressed, a small gesture from a an old family friend snaps John back to reality and he attempts to make amends where possible. He seeks out Gertie at the downtown library, endangering her job there, as he offhandedly references her Bible reading at the VA in front of her boss in the midst of an “apology.” Gertie finds herself in great distress; the thought of losing her job and her home, for sale and underwater, her relationship with the church and her mother constantly shifting–the weight of all the change in her life is bearing down on her. Gertie loses her temper and calls him out on his selfish behavior. Though her words are painful to hear, John is drawn to Gertie.
Their starkly different voices somehow manage to cut through the din of their own expectations. They click.
John and Gertie wander the city together, arriving at various places of significance for each of them. In each of the places they visit, both of their perspectives are present--for John, bad memories, a city in decay, and for Gertie, a place full of magic and unlikely beauty. As they move together, their perspectives shift, ever so subtly. They challenge each other, and their prodding causes them to question what they want for themselves as they grasp for meaning in their peculiar, shifting landscapes. It’s only a tiny sliver of hope, but they find it together as they open to their common experience; a glimmer that there could be more to who they are. Dayton, their hometown, is that thread–the second parent that shared raising them to be the people they’ve become. The town drapes over them like muslin to soften the edges of their individuality and for a moment, they know what it feels like to share origins, to recognize themselves in others, and to know that as a welcome embrace.
Their time together is brief, but they connect when just a little push, a little show of support and compassion, holds the possibility to redirect the course of their lives ever so slightly. Together they gain just enough confidence to hear, “Just keep going. You’ve got this. You’re doing fine.”