Re-edited for a “director’s cut” or not, 1997’s “Going all the Way” is best appreciated as an all-star-from-before-they-were-big-stars artifact of ’90s cinema. It’s a post-Korean War period piece with a couple of future Oscar winners — Ben Affleck and Rachel Weisz — rising starlet Rose McGowan and damned if that isn’t baby-faced Nick Offerman there as one of the jocks that Affleck’s character hung out with back in the day.
It’s fun seeing one and all in the bloom of youth, and catching a couple of Oscar nominees — Lesley Anne Warren and the late Jill Clayburgh — going at it as mothers of returning soldiers with competing ideas of who they should be and who should be their friends in the only film these two would make together.
Based on a seminal novel by Dan Wakefield, who wrote the screenplay, “Going All the Way” is a little “Catcher in the Rye,” a bit of “Breaking Away” (also set in Indiana, with a swimmin’ at the quarry scene) and a whole lot of Deep Thoughts and homoerotic subtext mixed in with a kind of “Best Years of Our Lives” disillusionment with coming home “a changed man.”
The film came out to indifferent reviews in 1997, and I can’t recall ever seeing it or whether it had the insipid/meant to be ironic voice-over narration hanging over its 103 minutes.
“Sonny felt weirdly removed from what was going on,” we can plainly see and and yet an unnamed narrator adds redundantly.
If that was added for this “50 minutes of never-seen footage” re-edit by director Mark Pellington (“Arlington Road,” “The Last Word,” “The Mothman Prophecies”), that uh, didn’t help.
And judging from this trudging, indulgent exercise in navel-gazing, I’d say the last thing it needed to be was 20+ minutes longer. There is no pace at all to this re-edit. Artful montages, fever dreams of our hero (Jeremy Davies, the kid GI “translator” of “Saving Private Ryan”) imagining this or that direction his life might take after serving his country, lots of establishing shots of 1950s Midwestern life cluttered with random images of traffic lights, borrowing tropes from better films and a stultifying self-seriousness burden a movie whose 1970 source novel had lots of ironic laughs.
Well, there is a fight/ that plays as a half speed rehearsal version and not a final take. I laughed at the incompetence of that.
Davies and Affleck play two GIs who connect on the train home to Indianapolis. “Gunner” (Affleck), the handsome, popular ex-jock is the one who recognizes “Sonny,” the classmate nobody knew who used to photograph all Gunner’s big games. Gunner reaches out, makes grand assumptions about how smart, philosophical and sage Sonny must have been to “stand back and observe” all the nonsense all the popular kids were obsessed with back then.
Sonny, whose Korean War was spent in military PR in Kansas, doesn’t correct Gunner, but we can guess that the popular jock is WAY overstating the depth of the nebbish opposite him. Gunner’s life was changed by visits to Japan, including one spent recovering from a war wound. His horizons expanded. Sonny? That hasn’t happened to him, yet. But he does feel a certain unease at his future.
And now that they’re “Back Home Again in Indiana,” Gunner makes Sonny his new drinking buddy and wingman.
As Sonny struggles to work up anything enthusiasm for his beautiful and adoring high school girlfriend (Amy Locane), skirt-chasing Gunner drags him out to museums, bars and and dances and fills his ears with the sounds of zen — “riddles” delivered in boorish monologues about Japan.
The jocks may want to bask in Gunner’s company once more, but he’s higher-minded than that. And all Sonny can do is fend off the babying his church lady mother (Clayburgh) still insists on and fret over just how much Gunner likes him for himself, or if Gunner’s figuring out the empty shell Sonny’s always been.
The one actually funny episode of their bromance is when Gunner grows a beard, and even his flirty floozy of a mom (Warren, as another “Victor/Victoria” vamp) wonders if he’s become a “communist” and if this nerdy photographer is the reason that happened.
Offerman plays one of the jocks who insists this “unclean” bearded weirdo he used to know should not be allowed in the country club pool. It’s a masterful condensation of 1950s conformity, bigotry and hysteria and it plays.
You can’t say that about much of the rest of the film. Longer does not mean “clearer” or more concise, more immersive or more of anything except scenes that reveal how much Affleck has grown as an actor since then and why Davies — last seen in “The Black Phone” — never became much of a star.
Weisz shimmers off the screen as an exotic Jewish classmate whom Gunner’s mom and the local anti-Semites don’t approve of, and McGowan sizzles, probably the last time one could see her in this bombshell light before a sexual assault unleashed personal demons that dog her and shape her psyche and reputation to this day.
Pellington? This was his debut film, after getting his start in music videos. Judging by his mostly colorless (I liked “Arlington Road,” didn’t hate “The Last Word”) subsequent output, this isn’t a movie “ruined” by a studio or a writer with final cut or anything of the sort. He made it as good as he could manage in 1997. And taking another shot at it 25 years later doesn’t improve it.
But see it for the glories of young stars about to take over Hollywood. Because it’s hard to figure out another reason to get all the way through this version of “Going All the Way.”
Rating: R, sex, nudity, alcohol abuse, some violence, profanity
Cast: Jeremy Davies, Ben Affleck, Amy Locane, Jill Clayburgh, Rachel Weisz, Rose McGowan, Nick Offerman and Lesley Anne Warren
Credits: Directed by Mark Pellington, scripted by Dan Wakefield, based on his novel. An Oscilloscope Labs re-release.
Running time: 2:06