“Going All the Way” is a piquant, highly hormonal memoir of growing up in ’50s Indianapolis. Adapted by Dan Wakefield from his 1970 bestseller, Mark Pellington’s debut feature amply illustrates the comforts and constraints of a currently idealized time in 20th century U.S. history through the stories of two very different young men just returned from Korean War duty. Not a film of compelling urgency, this Gramercy pickup from Lakeshore nonethe-less proves sexy and entertaining enough to cut a decent commercial swath given proper marketing and positioning, with the dating crowd and baby boomers as potential target audiences.
Wakefield’s trenchant coming-of-age tale uses a classic pairing of utterly contrasting types to ground his explora-tion of innocence and experience, of complacency and the thirst for adventure in a world largely cut off from, and suspicious of, outside influences.
But returning GIs always bring back fresh perspectives that threaten the folks back home, and so it is with Gunner Casselman (Ben Affleck), the definitive all-American jock who returns from action in 1954. On the train, he befriends another local Indianapolis boy, Sonny Burns, a slight, shy kid who spent the war in the uneventful safety zone of Kansas City.
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Gunner regales Sonny with stories, not of Korea, but of Japan, of how the women treat men differently there and how something called Zen gives you a new way of looking at things, forcing you to question long-accepted bromides. Arriving at the stultifying home of his overbearing religious mother (Jill Clayburgh) and stuffy businessman father (John Lordan), Sonny quickly is overwhelmed by the feeling that he missed out on all the important experi-ences by having been stuck Stateside.
For some reason though, the ever-popular, good-looking Gunner takes a liking to the socially backward Sonny and includes him in his carousing plans. First stop is the apartment of his mother (Lesley Ann Warren), a hot-to-trot single lady with an inordinate physical admiration for her son. On a double-date, Sonny gets it on with his obliging long-term girlfriend Buddy (Amy Locane), but there is no excitement in what is so readily at hand.
While Gunner becomes inspired through his affair with a sophisticated Jewish girl (Rachel Weisz) to consider attending Columbia in New York on the GI Bill, Sonny, despite some apparent talent for photography, doesn’t have a clue what he wants until he meets Gail (Rose McGowan) on a date set up by Gunner. An absolute dazzler in a red strapless gown, Gail inspires Sonny to previously unseen heights of humor and appeal, enough to get Gail to agree to a roll in the hay.
But when Sonny doesn’t prove up to the occasion, the aftermath is gruesome, leading to despairing acts on his part that land him for a long stay in the hospital. Afterward, he must quickly make the crucial decision that will keep him in Indiana all his life or allow him to make a break with his past.
Given that the story’s trajectory isn’t very surprising, it’s up to the character details and local color to imbue it with life, and in this the film largely succeeds. The atmosphere of a sedate, ultra-conformist and, at that moment, viru-lently anti-Communist community is vividly conveyed (on an undoubtedly economical budget) through the loca-tions, Therese DePrez’s resourceful production design, Arianne Phillips’ evocative costumes and Bobby Bukowski’s vivid lensing.
The film suffers somewhat from caricature. Sonny’s suffocating mom is directed, and played by Clayburgh, without the slightest acknowledgment of her humanity, while Gunner’s mother comes across as archly single-minded. As far as the younger women are concerned, they represent a collection of luscious babes almost too sexy, and avail-able, to be believed in the context of this puritanical outpost. All the same, the actresses make them vibrant creations, with Rose McGowan making for an eye-popping dream woman who breaks Sonny’s heart and Amy Locane neatly revealing the matter-of-fact sexuality beneath the surface of her corn-fed good girl.
Jeremy Davies, who starred in “Spanking the Monkey,” must spend the entire running time in various stages of tortured angst, frustration, uncertainty and despair, and while Sonny’s muddle and verbal inexpressiveness become moderately tiresome at times, Davies still provides a good emotional inroad for audience interest. Affleck does an excellent job as the ebullient Gunner, a young man who’s always had it all but willingly embraces the idea that he has a lot more to learn.
Pic could possibly use a few minutes of trimming to maximize its effectiveness, and the framing device of Sonny in the hospital is perhaps needlessly distracting.