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John Gordon Sinclair
When "American Psycho" was released early in 2000 it reaffirmed author Bret Easton Ellis as the controversial "bad boy" of contemporary American Fiction. "This is Not an Exit" reveals the world inhabited by Ellis. In HD.
Is there really a need to re-examine the seemingly worn-out subject of the plain, skinny guy looking for his heart's desire while his hunky jock buddy gets all the girls with little effort? Yes indeed, and Mark Pellington's "Going All the Way" takes a harder look at just that theme while adding a little humor and dark pathos to the mix.
Based on the novel by Dan Wakefield (who also wrote the screenplay), this film hopes to show another side of the familiar topic of very different male friends who emotionally lean on each other through the trials of dating, this time set in post-Korean War middle America. Servicemen "Sonny" (Jeremy Davies) and "Gunner" (Ben Affleck) had gone to the same high school but haven't seen each other in quite a while when they meet on a train returning to their native Indianapolis.
Sonny is the soft-spoken, non-athletic ex-photographer who did not see action, while Gunner is the handsome, ex-all-around-jock ladies man who served in Korea. Gunner has returned a changed man after his contact with Zen Buddhism (!), which has made him rethink his vacuous high school and college years and wants more out of life, partly explaining why he befriends the likes of Sonny, who he wouldn't have paid much attention to in the old days.
The root cause perhaps of their emotional differences is that Gunner, besides having the typical charmed life seen in other films of this genre, has a very hot, free-spirited, with-it but bigoted mother, Nina (Leslie Ann Warren), whereas Sonny's parents (Jill Clayburgh and John Lordan) are rather plain, unexciting, very religious and controlling. Back home, the guys have fairly sophisticated personal conversations at bars, and Sonny even teaches Gunner about photography, something that interests the latter because he has some artistic spirit to express. They soon become fast friends.
After a while, Gunner begins to question his sex-based relationship with ex-high school sweetheart DeeDee, who wants to get married because she is already 23 years old, after he meets the intellectually stimulating and physically delicious Marty (Rachel Weisz), who is a Jewish (gasp!) art student who inspires Gunner to dabble in abstract painting. Meanwhile, Sonny has gone back to his old sweetheart, the aptly named Buddy (Amy Locane), with whom he has sex--in his religious parents' house, no less!--but for whom he has little passion; it is a comfortable relationship of convenience that Buddy wishes could be more but who doesn't press him on it.
However, when Sonny ends up meeting Marty's gorgeous, sensuous friend Gail (Rose McGowan) and is convinced she is "the one," he is exceptionally funny and charming, mostly due to excessive liquor, but has trouble "performing" when they get down to business. The troubled feelings caused by this setback, combined with Gunner's impending trip to New York City to follow after Marty and to start a new life there, sends the already rather emotionally fragile/unstable Sonny into a depression, causing a chain of events that the two will not soon forget.
Sure, the basic premise of the film is a familiar one, but the performances and production values are what kept my attention. Davies' rather odd acting style adds an effective extra layer of pathos to the troubled Sonny, and Affleck is quite on the mark (despite a couple of distractingly anachronistic mannerisms) for what we are looking for in a smooth and handsome Gunner type. Clayburgh is completely believable as Sonny's over-the-top-sweet but covertly manipulative mother; however, I would have liked to see more of Warren, whose scene-stealing Nina was a great mix of sex appeal and shocking ignorance. Filmed in Indiana, the movie has nice outdoor scenes, unobtrusive sets (although the abstract painting at the museum is fabulous) and a fun score that add to the overall effect, with the exception of the opening tune which actually came out three years after the setting of this movie!
"Going All the Way" is no 10-star film, to be sure, but the earnest efforts of cast and crew come through sufficiently that it is worth your while to give it a look. This is a character-driven film that asks you to open your heart and, although set in the 1950s, examines one aspect of the human condition that we can relate to even today.
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