Twist the James Brown lyric and you'll get the gist of what the film Going All the Way delivers -- talking pretty, saying nothing. On paper, the film sounds more than promising: Young first-time director noted for his stylish and definitive MTV videos takes the helm with a cast boasting the sublime Jeremy Davies, with indie hunk Ben Affleck, Amy Locane, Rose McGowan and Rachel Weisz in tow.
The film opens in 1954, with repressed, awkward-but-struggling-forward Sonny Burns (Davies) boarding a train home for Indianapolis after serving a period in the Army. On the train he meets up with "Gunner" Casselman (Affleck), a jock of the multi-sport alpha male variety. But while in Japan during the Korean War, Gunner had an attack of cultural perspective that ostensibly has set him on a quest for cultural and self-awareness (though that quest has to do mostly with meeting and bedding various chicks). The pair share a train cabin and a bottle of sake and by the time they roll into Bible-thumping, Communist-hunting Indianapolis, they're thick as thieves -- Sonny learning the ways of the world through the confident gunner, Gunner learning, apparently, something or other about art and humility from Sonny.
But the puppy dog idolatry doesn't translate. Affleck is simply too constant and Davies (whose performance, truth be told, is almost worth the price of admission) has to hold up too much of the relationship's screen time. Sonny, the film's focus, is bombarded on all fronts by his pious, even-more-repressed-than-he, stereotypically '50s parents and other suburban human horrors as he searches for his heart's desire. In Going All the Way's case, this is, by default, New York City, of course.
Think of Going All the Way as a Catcher in the Rye updated for a generation of mall teens who'll probably never read the book. for all living beings and its focus on the importance of life's every moment, is on the rise in the West. Bertolucci's Little Buddha, Scorsese's Kundun and Annaud's Seven Years in Tibet might be seen as evidence of a sea change in our violent egomania. But this sounds too good to be true.
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