When the Clippers started whooping the Nuggets, to a degree that both hurt my feelings and made gravity feel more real than I cared to acknowledge, I decided it was time for a movie. Hoops, though, I thought. This one’s gotta be about hoops.
That is why I am now live-blogging “The Way Back,” starring Ben Affleck. It is on HBO, by the way, if you want to watch it (NOTE: coming back here on the back end to say that I really don’t recommend this). Here is my narration and commentary.
At the beginning of the movie Affleck gets off work at a construction site and pours a beer into a foam coffee cup, which he then drinks on his ride home. As the montage continues he has another beer, from a glass, watching NCAA basketball at a bar.
Affleck working a construction job reminds me of “The Company Men,” a lame entry into the lame mini-canon we’ll call The Cinema of The 2008 Recession. Maybe one of these movies, “The Big Short,” interrogates what actually caused the market collapse, but even that one exercises an inexplicable need to prop up “outsider” hedge fund guys on the way. “The Company Men” is flawed in different, less relevant ways, and amounts to unmemorable, mild propaganda with an unclear beneficiary, vaguely gesturing at a post-corporate society but not going nearly far enough. It’s just a really under-committed, under-charming Frank Capra derivative.
Affleck is now drinking a beer in the shower and the movie is starting to seem made exclusively as fodder for more Affleck Malaise memes.
I just stumbled onto this section in Affleck’s Wikipedia:
During the Me Too movement in 2017, Affleck was accused by two women of inappropriate behavior. Actress Hilarie Burton stated that, during an on-air appearance on TRL Uncensored in 2003, Affleck “wraps his arm around me, and comes over and tweaks my left boob”. Affleck responded on Twitter: “I acted inappropriately toward Ms. Burton and I sincerely apologize.” Annamarie Tendler, a makeup artist, claimed Affleck allegedly “grabbed my ass at a Golden Globes party in 2014 … He tried to play it like he was politely moving me out of the way.”
…now Affleck is at the liquor store, reloading. He runs into his friend SAL there. Sal makes extra money as a ref in Catholic League games.
NOW Affleck is at Thanksgiving and his niece is calling him UNCLE FARTPOOP. His sister is played by Michaela Watkins, who is an awesome actress IMO. Her show “Casual” on Hulu is good. Most likely it is better than this movie. Affleck tells weird stories about a fish tank to his nephew. He calls his nephew “Chief.” Affleck’s sister asks him if he’s “seeing anybody.” She hates that he is alone all the time, drinking all the time, he responds I’M FINE.
Affleck is clearly divorced. His sister starts poking around about that. He gets mad as hell, retreats, and leaves his ex-wife a voicemail.
A few scenes later Affleck is meeting with a priest who asks him to coach the high school basketball team. “I’ve been away from the game a long time,” he says. My personal favorite movie about a guy who’s been away from the game for a long time and is asked to coach his old high school team is not this one; it is “Above The Rim,” which has Tupac and Bernie Mac in it, though neither is the star.
The priest tells Affleck that the team hasn’t made the playoffs since he played on the team. Affleck is hesitant to take the job, the priest tells him to sleep on it, and then Affleck goes home and gets shit-hammered and talks to himself, smoking cigarettes indoors.
Affleck decides to coach the team. The interim coach is a NERD who teaches algebra class. When they meet, the nerd coach, who anyone could beat up, including you, has a certain amount of reverence for Affleck’s high school career. He introduces the boys to Affleck, in the nerdiest way possible. Fucking loser. Nerd.
Affleck immediately lasers in on the tallest guy on the team and roasts him for taking too many threes. The nerd coach consults his clipboard and informs us that this dude only makes 26% of his threes, despite his personal belief that he has “a candy stroke.” He is NOT the stretch-five that he thinks he is, and everyone laughs at him for how poorly his game fits into the basketball analytics movement.
The players begin shit-talking each other, and then Affleck suggests a “motion offense” before they return to scrimmage. Afterwards the nerd coach reveals that he is taking care of his sick, dying mother. They aren’t holding back with the PATHOS in this one!!
There is a Naturalist vibe that this movie is going for, with its subtle, spare guitar score (like a cucked-down Explosions In The Sky), its use of light, and its underwritten interactions. Aesthetically it is fine, so far, but it is not really achieving the intended effect, IMO.
…Affleck meets with his ex-wife. Total babe. I can understand why he drinks all the time TBH. She’s with a new dude, she tells him. He’s not that jacked about it. Unfortunately it is a sort of upsetting scene. I wonder what caused them to break up. Afterward Affleck gets drunk at the bar again and The Boys romanticize his old performances—“55 points!” one of them says. This black dude named “Doc” walks him home. Affleck is way too drunk to get there on his own. This is the second time this has happened in the movie. “The Company Men” also had a token black man, who was also magically folksy.
Affleck’s squad is clearly a bunch of losers. They get killed and Affleck tells a black player he’s not allowed to do his pre-game dance anymore until they win another game. They are 1-9. Affleck tells them they are all pussies and tells them to throw more elbows. He benches the ostensible best player to SEND A MESSAGE. Then one of his players immediately commits a flagrant foul on a fast break and a fight breaks out between the teams. Affleck’s team gets killed again. A priest tells Affleck that his goal is not to win basketball games but to MOLD QUALITY MEN and he tells Affleck not to swear so much. Affleck is glib about the religiosity presented to him.
Affleck goes to the bar again, but then turns around before having a drink. The religiosity works. He is making progress. I’m worried that the movie will be less funny if he drinks less, although really it has not been as unintentionally funny as I was hoping for to this point, just kind of dour and lame.
In the next scene he kicks the 26% three-point shooter off the team for showing up to a game late and acting arrogantly. Affleck tells the team they are going to do an aggressive full-court press the whole game. SAL is reffing the game and Affleck swears at him a lot for a call he doesn’t like.
Then they win the game!!!!!!!!!! after a white guy named Kenny hits a three at the buzzer. Affleck gives a ride home to a player after he sees him walking home alone. The kid tells him his mom died and his dad is home raising his three brothers. PATHOS, baby. Hoops will bring together the broken-hearted and give them purpose, give them belonging and love. Affleck tells the player, in the sad car ride, that he needs to pass less and shoot more. Thought Leadership. Mamba Mentality. Buckets Don’t Lie.
The nerd coach tells Affleck he saw empty beer cans in the office, and that he shouldn’t do that anymore.
Affleck goes hard at the next practice, forcing his point guard to scream out plays so loudly that he can hear them in the nosebleeds. After he pushes him too hard, the point guard loses it on him. Then the kid he kicked off the team comes to Affleck’s house to ask back onto the team. Affleck says no and closes his door. Then the kid knocks on the door again, and Affleck is like okay you really mean it, I WILL LET YOU BACK ONTO THE TEAM.
I am not really naming the players on the team or any of the characters here largely because I don’t know their names. The movie has not distinguished or developed them well enough for them to stick in my brain.
This has been Part I of me live-journaling “The Way Back.” I will be back another time with Part II. The team is 2-9 at this point, by the way. I can’t exactly say I hope they do better because I don’t care about the characters—either a failure of the movie or of my own imaginative empathy. Anyway I will be back soon.