Going All the Way is a coming-of-age film that's more for adults than it is for people who really need to do the growing up. It involves war, sex, religion (or the lack thereof), art work, and, of course, growing up and maturing. Oh, and for once, its characters aren't in their mid-teens; they're instead in their mid-twenties. This helps the film because it means that older actors get the roles and it can also include all of these themes without making the characters seem too grown up before the film even begins.
We start off only learning about two characters. The first is a shy man nicknamed Sonny (Jeremy Davis), while the second is the jock-type "Gunner" (Ben Affleck). Both of these men are returning after serving in the Army during the Korean War, although only Gunner actually participated in combat. Sonny, being the more reclusive character, did paperwork. Both characters went to the same high school, but they were in different social circles; Gunner was the jock who was star of the football team, while Sonny played chess by himself.
To Sonny's surprise, once back in Indiana, the two men become friends. Gunner claims that the war and experiencing different cultures overseas changed him. I can see how that could happen. So they begin hanging out together, hoping to find their place in the world. And find one or multiple women, because that's what young men need to do. Sonny also wants to get out of the shadow of his overbearing parents, as they dominate practically every aspect of his lifestyle, including his belief system. At night, he curses God, which would probably get him grounded if his parents heard.
So, yes, it's a film about self-discovery, learning what one can do in the world, and all that jazz. Nothing particularly groundbreaking is covered here, especially because Going All the Way has been released in 1997 instead of the 1950's, where this type of content would have been considered taboo. That doesn't necessarily make it bad, but it means that you'll have seen most of it before and nothing will truly surprise you.
Joining Davis and Affleck in the cast are Amy Locane, playing Sonny's girlfriend from before the war, Rachel Weisz as an art student who becomes the target of Gunner's affection, and Rose McGowan as Sonny's "dream girl." All three women have their personalities stripped away and whittled down to very little, although there is enough there for us to distinguish them from one another. That's about as much as there is to say about them, except to say that maybe this lack of personality was intentional.
See, Going All the Way makes it clear that Sonny is our main character. He thinks about women all the time -- even Gunner's mother, Nina (Lesley Ann Warren) becomes an object of desire. Since we're filtering the events through his perspective, it's possible that the reason for this lack of personality is because that's the way he sees and objectifies the opposite sex. Or, perhaps, that's simply giving the film too much credit. One or the other.
I got the impression that this is a film that attempted to make me laugh. It's listed as a comedy on more than one internet sites, although I didn't really see what was funny about it. It even takes a much darker turn later on that managed to be both shocking and unsurprising. Shocking because it came as a surprise to me when it happened, but unsurprising because I really should have figured it out -- the clues were all there.
That's not to say it's an unhappy film by any means. The main tone of the film is fairly light, and there are a couple of fairly enjoyable moments. But to call it a comedy would be to stretch the term. This is more of a drama, and to be more specific, a coming-of-age film. It follows many tropes and won't bring you many surprises, but it's well-made and you can tell that the filmmakers' hearts were in the right place. (And, for a change, the man who wrote the novel that this film is adapted from actually wrote the screenplay. That doesn't happen every day!)
I mentioned that there was a lack of personality to the lead actresses, but the same is true for both males as well. Granted, they're allowed to develop as the film progresses, but they're stock personalities. There's the jock and the nerd, and apart from a few changes to the way they treat other people, they're essentially the same stock character throughout.
The acting in the film is more or less indifferent. I liked both males, and it was nice that, for once, the "jock" character didn't start off as a jerk and gradually progress into understanding that the nerd was a nice person who shouldn't be beaten up. The two become friends more or less from the beginning, and we grow to like both of them because they're nice people. The same can't be said of the female characters, but again, I'm thinking that might have been intentional.
Going All the Way is a good coming-of-age film, largely because its main characters are all old enough to be involved in the plot points that these types of films often feature. It doesn't do much fresh or original, but it does have a likable cast. The characters are all stereotypes, though, and I would have preferred for it to be funnier than it was, but it's still not a terrible watch and I had a good enough time.