Friday, April 29, 2011

Lynn Shelton's early WE GO WAY BACK gets a late theatrical release in Brooklyn

Or is it a re-release? I'm not sure. Either way, this was TrustMovies' first time to see WE GO WAY BACK, the early (2006) film from Lynn Shelton, the woman who brought us Humpday in 2009 and My Effortless Brilliance in 2008. To TM's taste, this older film is twice the movie Humpday was: funnier, faster, finer in every way. Delicate with out being wispy, and with quite an original idea at its core, the film grabs you, places you into various moods from light to dark, and will not let go until the final frame -- at which point you are left to wonder what will happen to our heroine: a young woman who, up until that point, has shown herself to be quite the lovely and much-used doormat.

Seems to me that Ms Shelton, shown at left, is working with much more of a script here than she was in Humpday. At least We Go Way Back has little of that annoying, half-assed dialog that so many mumblecore movies wear like some verbal badge of honor. The dialog here, in all cases, seems not only real and just-discovered but also intelligent and on-the-mark, creating character, even as it rolls onwards -- to my mind the real badge of honor where filmed conversation is concer-ned. The filmmaker's lead character, Kate, is a 23-year-old actress with an experimental theater company in Seattle whom Shelton and the lovely young actress who plays Kate (Amber Hubert, below, right, and at bottom) bring to wonderful, alternately annoying/funny/sad life.
The filmmaker's "take" on the theater company, its actors and particularly its director results in some of the funniest, low-key satire of an "experimental" theater doing "the classics" that I have ever seen. Simply for what Shelton lets us see and hear of the company's re-creation of Ibsen's Hedda Gabbler, her film deserves its own "classic" status. This is prime stuff, hilarious and all too true. (It should make us New Yorkers even more thankful for our own Pearl Theater Company, which, for nearly thirty years, has given us those classics in their real, rightful form -- unadorned by idiotic experimenters. And it's not that I'm against experimental theater. But create it on your own for christ's sake -- don't bowdlerize your betters.

But back to the film: That original and core idea that Shelton has come up with is to have her heroine discover and re-read letters that she, as a teen-ager ten years earlier, wrote to her older, not-yet-even-there self. These are sad, charming and dear -- and though I've never heard of any teen actually doing this, why not? It would take a rather mature girl to even think of it, but that's part of the point here: The writings of this younger, hopeful girl becomes the very thing that sets her older counterpart to wondering about her current life. And perhaps assisting her in doing something about it. It's a lovely conceit, and Shelton makes good use of it without turning it into some heavy-handed lecture (which I may be doing here). Think of it as a kind of non-scary ghost story, with your own youth as the specter.

The younger self is played by a terrific little look-alike in youthful form, Maggie Brown (above and further above), and the various men in Kate's life are given small but telling moments.  Her theater director is played by Robert Hamilton Wright, and he is low-key, pretentious perfection. Without giving away too much, I hope, I will say that because the director sees the character of Hedda's hubby as a man-child, he decides to replace the adult actor with his own teen-age nephew (below, left). If we were to see the finished production of this Hedda, it might just prove the funniest theater piece of all time. (On the other hand, it might bore us to sleep before our laughter could take wing.)

Some film-goers may carp about being left in limbo at film's end. (Or not returning again to the theater to experience some deserved come-uppances.) Not I. We've seen quite enough to understand what could happen from here on in, and that, coupled with some lovely closing visuals, should be enough to quietly please us.
We Go Way Back opens today for a week's run in Brooklyn at the re-Run Gastropub theater. I saw the film on a wonderfully bright, crisp Blu-ray screener, which put the first-rate cinematography (by Benjamin Kasulke) up front. I hope that the film will be eventually be available to the public -- on DVD, and if possible on Blu-ray.

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