Going all the Way (1997) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
|We both liked a Ben Affleck movie. If you think that is
shocking, you better brace yourself. We both thought Affleck did an
excellent job in this film. Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli shared
our enthusiasm, but the film came in too long, was pared from 155
minutes to 105 minutes for a theatrical release, and was still an utter
bomb at the box office.
Some pundit wrote that history is written by the winners, but the general problem with "coming of age" novels is that they are history written by the losers. The popular dumb jocks don't grow up to write agonized novels. They have trouble signing checks. The novels are always written by the geek-boys, and are written years after the fact. That strips away a lot of accuracy. In the interim period, the losers forget the things they want to forget, fail to confess the things that they consider embarrassing, exaggerate the torments inflicted on them by the cool guys, and lionize their own feeble efforts to be cool in their own ways. After all, the geeks want to remember that they weren't really losers, just more sensitive, more knowing, smarter, their values more lasting.
Dan Wakefield was really an exception. He remembered his youth with all the scars and warts, and he remembered how the jocks could sometimes be better people than the geeks.
And so it is that nerdy Sonny, the voice of the film, remembers the most painful moments of all. He recalls how his embarrassed parents hired a Christian counselor to talk to him about growing up, and how that counselor caught him spanking the monkey one day. He has not forgotten how his mom found his girlie books in the trash, nor how he couldn't get it up when he got the chance to have sex with the hottest babe he had ever seen, nor how he started a suicide attempt until he felt complete loathing for himself for being such a total loser as to contemplate suicide.
And he remembers how the quintessential cool-but-dumb jock, "Gunner", was intrinsically a good guy, not a mindless moron at all, but a guy who understood that life should be more than it is, wanted to expand himself, but didn't really know how. Most important, even though Gunner was and still is the coolest guy in town, he looked past the jocks and befriended the nerd because he could actually talk to the guy.
You have to applaud Wakefield for the complexity and honesty of those two characters, and their friendship is the tie that binds the movie into something worthwhile. The book was more of a satire of life in 1954, and the movie is more of an honest remembrance of the pain, and an expression of the need to escape from the life being satirized. Ben Affleck and Jeremy Davies do great work as the mismatched friends, especially Davies. Affleck had his character spot-on, but he had less of a challenge than Jeremy Davies because he played a generic kind of guy who would have been portrayed similarly by many other actors. Davies, on the other hand, brought a unique characterization to his part, and left his personal stamp on the film.
The weakest element of the movie is that the other characters in the movie are just cardboard props for cheap satire. I don't object to that in principle, but it creates an odd juxtaposition to the honesty and reality of the two main characters. The parents, the girlfriends, the religious leaders - they are all broadly satirical characters, and seem very far from reality except for Amy Locane's part. The broad-brush nature of these characters makes it more difficult to accept the honest portrayal of the two main characters.
I think the realism/surrealism duality was a calculated decision on the filmmakers' part. I know, or I guess I know, what the film was trying to achieve by doing this. It's the same technique that Savage Steve Holland went for in "Better off Dead", where Cusack is a perfectly normal guy living in a surreal world. The script was trying to show how exaggerated the characters of that time seemed from the point of view of the self-conscious. I guess my parents sometimes seemed to me as embarrassing as the parents in this film, and so I could remember some of the things they did when I watched the parents in the film, even though I know my parents were far more complex than the people they seemed to be in those moments. You know how it is when you're 15 and your mom reaches over and straightens your tie in public. It doesn't really cause all your friends to laugh at you. But that's what it feels like at the time. The movie just takes those moments of excessive self-awareness and inflates them, so that the minor characters are not really characters at all, but representations of our hero's feelings about them.
A strange history of this story. It takes place in 1954. The novel was written in 1970, so it was really about how the 70's viewed the 50's. I have my original copy of the book. Retail price - $1.25, printed June, 1971. Hard to believe I could be that old. Anyway, the screenplay was written in 1997, but probably doesn't have much 90's sensibility at all, at least not that I can see. It is therefore essentially a 1970 movie about the 1950's, which would have been a hot subject had it actually been made in 1970. At that time it would have gathered tons of visceral support and identification from the mainstream film audiences. It would have showed how the sexual and cultural revolution of the late sixties was already present as a seed, growing in the insipid tranquility of the Eisenhower world. That point would have been vivid in 1970, but seemed a bit like an intellectual exercise in 1997. While it is a good little movie, you may want to take that into consideration before you rent it. If you don't care how the 70's perceived the 50's, it may fail to play the right emotional chords for you. They should have made it into a movie in 1971, when all those feelings were up on the surface.
Despite that problem, however, I think the film still packs a lot of emotional punch, at least for those of us who did grow up in the fifties.
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