By Caitlin Graham
Tony McNamara both wrote and directed his latest film Ashby, another coming-of-age movie in a time when a rite of passage apparently makes the best story. Tall and lanky Nat Wolff plays Ed Wallis, a teenager uprooted to Virginia by his recently divorced mother. Sarah Silverman and her lack of acting skills play June Wallis, Ed’s mother. June is anxious to start her new life with a new job and a new man, while Ed’s father, back in an unspecified location, is not anxious to be anything more than an absentee father making promises he doesn’t uphold.
Despite starting over, Ed is determined to make a name for himself at his new school. His goal is to fit in among those his new literature teacher refers to as “Ritalin-addicted porn freaks.” However, once he opens his mouth, out flows all his knowledge of Hemingway, and then comes his establishment as a nerd, already hinted at by his gawky appearance. This stereotype is a hindrance, and keeps him from sharing his secret football talent with the world.
Ed doesn’t start to find his place until he meets fellow female nerd Eloise, played by Emma Roberts. Eloise is a science geek, complete with her very own MRI machine that allows her to study people’s brains inside her own garage. Mickey Rourke and his deflated balloon of a face play Ashby Holt, Ed’s neighbour, who also aids in Ed’s ability to thrive at his new school.
Ashby is an ex-CIA agent with only a few months to live, causing him to grow a conscience for things he did as a black-ops assassin. He uses Ed as an unsuspecting and unknowing accomplice in his plans to get revenge on the men who used the government to sanction the murder of an innocent. The only reason Ed becomes involved with his neighbour and his dark past is because his endlessly witty English teacher tasks his class to “meet an old person, talk to them, [and] write about it.”
After Ed and Ashby make each other’s acquaintance there ensues an expected series of events: Ashby murdering a couple people, Ed making the football team, June having sexy times with a guy from work, Eloise falling in love with Ed, and a montage of Ashby mentoring Ed in his ability to fight back against bullies. These clichéd occurrences, along with a smattering of sexual incidents that are more than innuendos, ruin the film’s attempt at being a more astute form of comedic and dramatic entertainment. Not even highbrow lines that include words like “umbrage” and “lexicon” can save it.
The only real thing this movie has going for itself is its character development of Ed and Ashby. Ed is seen as loveable through his shy and awkward behaviour, along with his incessant babbling, and the disappointment caused by his father. The fact that Ed is blind to his father’s behaviour adds to the audience’s desire to like him. In one scene he is even shown standing in the airport with a welcome sign, as his dad told him he was coming to his first football game, but he never shows up. Ashby is seen as loveable because a lot of his past is kept secret until the end. Most of what you see of Ashby at the beginning is the struggle with his diagnosis and his mentoring of Ed, even helping Ed see that his dad is a loser. Once Ashby starts going around shooting up a couple of rich people and using Ed as his accomplice, you can’t help but like him because the plot reveals that his wife died and his daughter committed suicide, which Ashby blames himself for.
The major problem is that this movie is coming two years after The Kings of Summer and The Way, Way Back were released. These films were highly rated, and also focused on the coming of age theme, of boys becoming men. Ashby certainly would be rated much lower if it had come out right on the heels of these movies, but seeing as it was released later it got away with a little more even though a much better film was expected. Despite taking a different spin from mundane, normal life, with the incorporation of assassinations and senior mentorships, the movie falls short of what it sets out to do. It’s not good enough that the evolution of Ed’s character is blatantly apparent. It’s desire to be of a higher standard of comedic entertainment, while maintaining a dramatic effect, would have been achieved if every character was written as well as the smaller role of the English teacher.
Caitlin Graham prides herself on saying she graduated university without debt, after working up to six part-time jobs at a time. However, she can be classified as a glass-half-empty person with a tendency to be straightforward. She hopes to become a glass-refillable person after grasping a stable career.