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Looking for Love in a Smart 'Going All the Way'

Movie review: Mark Pellington delivers a moving but visually overactive version of Dan Wakefield's novel.

September 19, 1997|JOHN ANDERSON | FOR THE TIMES

Consider the Woody Allen-Bill Gates trajectory of American manhood over the last 30 years, and there's only one conclusion: Nerds rule! Al Gore is vice president. Ben Stein has his own TV show. And Jeremy Davies, who appeared in "Spanking the Monkey" and is now starring in "Going All the Way," has timed his career to the height of the geek revolution.

Davies will take the misfit portrayal to even further extremes in the upcoming "Locusts," and is walking on the thin ice of stereotype. That said, he's nearly perfect in this adaptation of Dan Wakefield's popular novel, a tale of--what else?--rites of passage, coming of age and sexual education under Eisenhower.

Based on a 1970 novel set in the '50s, and directed by '80s and '90s MTV auteur Mark Pellington (Pearl Jam, U2, Public Enemy), "Going All the Way" shows a pan-generational sympathy for the plight of males in need. Could it have been set during any other period? Probably not: Its subtext about women, marriage and men-as-prey wouldn't really wash outside of the Cleaver Years.

At the same time, the film's erotic landscape seems more like the '60s; for all the reputed sexual repression that made Elvis Presley possible, the terrain of "Going All the Way" is pretty freewheeling.

And Sonny Burns (Davies) would like to get in on the action. Returning home to Indiana after the Korean War (he served in Kansas City), Sonny meets an old hometown acquaintance, Gunner Casselman (Ben Affleck of "Chasing Amy"). Gunner has also been discharged, and it's Gunner, the former sports star, who strikes up with Sonny, the former high school photographer. It's an odd match, but there's something solid about Sonny to which Gunner responds; for all of Gunner's pretentious talk about Japan and art and the ways of Zen, something in the war has changed him, something never articulated but always present.

This unspoken, Hemingway-esque war ghost lends gravity to the friendship between the two young men, each of whom has his own female trouble. Sonny's mother, Alma (played with a combination salve and acid by Jill Clayburgh), is a smothering, manipulative holy roller who wants Sonny to marry Buddy (Amy Locane), his faithful, uninspiring girlfriend. Gunner's mother, whom he calls Nina (Lesley Ann Warren), refers to herself in the third person and reveals a vicious anti-Semitic streak--and probable Oedipal impulse--when Gunner takes up with the savvy Jewish art student Marty Pilcher (Rachel Weisz). Sonny's most agonizing moments come with Gale Ann Thayer (retro-bombshell Rose McGowan), a pitiless siren who leaves him in an emotional ditch.

So much male bonding, male pain. And so many women with men's names. Like the crankcase on a '57 Chevy, the Wakefield-Pellington perspective on gender relations is a black and viscous thing, full of unpleasant possibilities. Pellington bestows on the film a distracting, if occasionally effective, amount of video technique, and Wakefield's story is rich and often truthful.

On the other hand, neither seems to have learned the lessons of their movie: That "going all the way" doesn't really refer to sex. And that when men resist their basic nature is when they finally become adults.

* MPAA rating: R for strong sexuality. Times guidelines: sex, nudity, adult situations, vulgarity.

'Going All the Way'

Jeremy Davies: Sonny Burns

Ben Affleck: Gunner Casselman

Amy Locane: Buddy Porter

Rose McGowan: Gale Ann Thayer

Rachel Weisz: Marty Pilcher

Jill Clayburgh: Alma Burns

Leslie Ann Warren: Nina Casselman

A Gramercy Pictures release. Director Mark Pellington. Screenplay Dan Wakefield, based on his novel. Producers Tom Gorai, Sigurjon Sighvatsson. Photography Bobby Bukowski. Editor Leo Trombetta. Production designer Terese DePres. Costumes Arianne Phillips. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.

*

* Exclusively at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (213) 848-3500, and Edwards Town Center, 3199 Park Center Drive, Costa Mesa, (714) 751-4184.

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