Ashby full movie review - Ashby Is A Good Film. It Feels Like A Homage To Hal Ashby.
The first thing I noticed by comparison that the characters Ed Wallis & Eloise (played perfectly by Nat Wolff & Emma Thompson) seemed displaced in time.
Hipsters browsing a late 1950's high-school-football-town with standard bullying, simplistic male ideologies, inattentive dads and a woman desperate for love.
I felt a nostalgia with the Hal Ashby experience of mixing the old with the new. I couldn't see any of this a subtle nod to the famous Director as there was a throw away line about Harold & Maude that convinced me this film was paying tribute to one of the greats.
It's safe to assume Nat Wolff's Ed is the "Harold" to Mickey Rourke's Ashby Holt being "Maude". It's a quiet balance of the past & the present operating smoothly throughout the remainder of the film.
The focus of the movie follows an above average high school student Ed as he self-obsesses his way through life doing what's expected of him as a man. Only to realize that being a man isn't the complexity Ed's made of it. Ed does things such as join the football team for the approval of his Dad who (A) isn't there and (B) won't ever be there. It takes the father-figure we find in Ashby Holt to show Ed that the common standards of masculinity isn't about winning other people's approval.
Ed meets Ashby through a school assignment to interview an "elderly person". Being new to the neighborhood, Ed walks next door to Ashby; the only "elderly person" he knows.
Ashby Holt (played by the talented Mickey Rourke) is a retired CIA assassin with a brain tumor that's limited his last days down to 3 months. Ashby is dismissive of the deaths he's involved with, because it was for "the good of the country". He's at peace with himself until the nosy-neighbor kid (Ed) discovers this news purely by accident and questions that ideology of "killing bad people" until Ashby reviews the people he's executed. Evidently one person Ashby & 3 other men assassinated was strictly for profit, as his ex-partners now lavish in wealth, while Ashby himself lives a modest lifestyle.
There's a touch of religious aspects here where Ashby confesses to a Catholic Priest as he seeks absolution in his dying days. His desire to make himself right with God, go to Heaven, and see his daughter again - is written for the justification for Ashby to murder his old CIA buddies. I found it a little lazy, but it really didn't distract from the flow of the story.
Ed unknowingly chauffeurs Ashby through these final acts because his illness has impaired his driving ability because of fainting spells. It's during these moments where we see that balancing act between the then & the now as Ashby puts to rest old errors with a gun battle & Ed apologizes to Eloise for letting her down during his self-obsessed play at "being manly" around his new football friends.
There's that same balance with the locker room scenes as Coach Bruton & Coach Wally (wonderful tongue in cheek humor & performances by Kevin Dunn & John Enos III) enforce revered traditions and living up to the standards and accomplishments of past players. In contrast to that old school motto in winning approval to be a man is Ashby's old school simplicity in taking a punch; Ashby shows Ed that a person needs to learn how to take punches because it's a part of life. Life will hit you. It's a lesson Ed applies to a football game when he rallies the other players by ignoring tradition & approval by simply getting out there and getting the job done.
REWIND: I've done something here in this review that's very noticeable in the movie. I've unknowingly disregarded the women in the plot device.
Sarah Silverman plays the mother June Wallis who has moved herself and her son to a new town as a fresh beginning after divorce. It's Sarah's comedy in the film which keeps it from becoming a harsher drama that this plot could have easily become.
The only necessity I could find in Ed catching his mother giving some guy a blow job or being free with her vagina & sexuality is when it alludes to Ed asking a guy that's stayed the night what his intentions towards his mom are. It does two things for the story; It allows Ed to finally understand that his dad is no different than the a holes his mom is currently dating. A fact he vehemently denies to Ashby's face when confronted by that notion. It also connects Ed as the more mature person in the family as he reassures his mom that she deserves better than what she so desperately chases after.
Frankly, June Wallis is a background parent much like Ed's father except while it's made obvious that his dad isn't around - it isn't so obvious that his mother should have a larger impact for this story. For whatever reason, Silverman is under-used.
Emma Roberts who plays the intellectual Eloise is also not utilized completely, but kept as a companion piece for Ed himself. Note to Director Tony McNamara, when you have two incredible young talents like Nat Wolff and Emma Roberts; Give them the screen time they deserve! Roberts is an incredibly gifted woman a perfect balance for Wolff and his character, but you made her the girlfriend watching from the sidelines. I would have posted this movie above the 7 out of 10 which I've reviewed it as if only there were a woman's touch to the varying examples of masculinity. Because a man is only as masculine in comparison to a woman's femininity - How masculine should I expect Ed to become when his two examples of feminism are background decorations & puns?