Review: ‘Werewolves Within,’ starring Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, Catherine Curtin, Michaela Watkins, Michael Chernus, Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén

July 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left: Catherine Curtin, Milana Vayntrub, Harvey Guillén, Cheyenne Jackson, George Basil, Sarah Burns and Sam Richardson in “Werewolves Within” (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/IFC Films)

“Werewolves Within”

Directed by Josh Ruben

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional city of Beaverfield, Vermont, the horror film “Werewolves Within” features a mostly white group of people (with one African American, one Latino and one biracial Native American) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A newly appointed forest ranger arrives in Beaverfield, a rural city that’s in turmoil over a fracking debate and speculation that a killer werewolf is on the loose.

Culture Audience: “Werewolves Within” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Werewolves Within” video game and to people who are interested in memorable horror comedies with quirky characters.

Michaela Watkins in “Werewolves Within” (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/IFC Films)

There’s a particular art to blending horror and comedy that “Werewolves Within” achieves with goofy and quirky charm. It’s a well-cast movie that has obvious influences—namely, filmmaker brothers Joel and Ethan Coen 1996 dark comedy “Fargo” and filmmaker Edgar Wright’s 2004 zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead.” However, “Werewolves Within” (directed by Josh Ruben and written by Mishna Wolff) still keeps the wacky spirit of the Ubisoft video game on which it is based. It’s one of the few video-game-to-movie adaptations that isn’t an embarrassment to the video game.

“Werewolves Within”—which takes places during a snowy winter in the fictional rural city of Beaverfield, Vermont—has a wisecracking tone throughout the film but still maintains an aura of impending doom, as the body count begins to increase. When newly appointed forest ranger Finn Wheeler (played by Sam Richardson) arrives in Beaverfield to start his new job, he arrives in a city that’s plagued by divisive tensions over a fracking controversy. There’s also speculation that a wild animal (possibly a werewolf) is responsible for a recent bloody death of a hunter in the woods, nearly a month earlier.

Finn has his own personal issues going into this job. He’s very insecure about being perceived as a wimp who’s too nice. The first time that viewers see Finn is in his car, as he’s driving to Beaverfield. He’s listening to a self-help motivational podcast or audio recording to learn how to be an assertive alpha male. During the course of the movie, viewers will see that Finn (who was transferred to Beaverfield by the U.S. Forest Service) has to battle his own inner demons and insecurities, as well as the major problems that he comes across in Beaverfield.

“Werewolves Within” moves at such a quick pace that within the first 15 minutes of the film, Finn has met all of the characters who will be in this story. They are:

  • Jeanine Sherman (played by Catherine Curtin), the mild-mannered owner of the Beaverfield Inn, where Finn is living.
  • Sam Parker (played by Wayne Duvall), an arrogant executive from Midland Gas, the company that wants to buy land in Beaverfield for fracking purposes.
  • Cecily Moore (played by Milana Vayntrub), a friendly and talkative mail carrier from the U.S. Postal Service, who lives at the Beaverfield Inn rent-free in exchange for assisting with the inn’s cleaning duties.
  • Dr. Jane Ellis (played by Rebecca Henderson), a politically liberal, serious-minded sociologist and environmentalist who is vehemently against anything that she thinks is damaging to the environment, such as what Midland Gas wants to do.
  • Emerson Flint (played by Glenn Fleshler), a gruff and reclusive animal trapper who is the subject of a lot of the town’s gossip.
  • Devon Wolfson (played by Cheyenne Jackson), a vain millionaire who founded a tech company and who gave up life in a big city for a more laid-back lifestyle in Beaverfield.
  • Joaquim Wolfson (played by Harvey Guillén), Devon’s flamboyant and sassy husband who owns a yoga studio in town.
  • Trisha Anderton (played by Michaela Watkins), an uptight neurotic who has a passion for crafting and is the owner of Anderton Farms, which has been in her family for 90 years.
  • Pete Anderton (played by Michael Chernus), Trisha’s politically conservative, lecherous husband who has a wandering eye and wandering hands when it comes to women who aren’t his wife.
  • Gwen Sieczkowski (played by Sara Burns), a tough-talking mechanic who had a somewhat secret affair with Pete.
  • Marcus (played by George Basil), Gwen’s boyfriend who is unemployed, financally broke and very dimwitted.

These residents of Beaverfield have various opinions of what Midland Gas wants to do in Beaverfield. Beaverfield Inn owner Jeanine is reluctant to sell her property to Midland Gas, even though the company is offering her a lot of money to sell. Devon and Joaquim, who identify as progressive liberals, are inclined to be against what Midland Gas wants to do.

Meanwhile, Trisha, Pete, Gwen and Marcus think that Midland Gas will bring a lot of business to Beaverton, and they want to profit from it as much as possible. Cecily hasn’t expressed a strong opinion one way or another. But she does tell Finn that she likes her living arrangement, and that she hopes that the Beaverfield Inn won’t be sold to Midland Gas, which would demolish the inn for fracking activities.

The first time that Cecily and Finn meet, it’s at the inn, and there’s an immediate attraction between them. Finn isn’t as obvious about his attraction to Cecily when they first meet, because he tells her that he has a girlfriend named Charlotte, who’s in the city where he used to live. Charlotte is never seen in the movie, but her phone conversations with Finn make it clear to viewers that she likes to nag and henpeck Finn and doesn’t really respect him.

Finn decided to transfer to Beaverfield as part of his goal to be an alpha male, by taking on a challenge outside of his comfort zone. His relationship with Charlotte is somewhat in limbo because he doesn’t know how long he might be in Beaverfield. Meanwhile, Cecily notices that Finn and Charlotte’s relationship is on shaky ground. Cecily isn’t afraid to tell Finn what she thinks about it.

Because she’s a mail carrier who knows a lot of the personal business of the Beaverfield residents, Cecily is Finn’s main source of information and gossip about what’s been going on in Beaverfield. She tells Finn that Jeanine’s husband left Jeanine to run off to Belize with another woman. Cecily is also the one to tell Finn about Pete and Gwen’s affair, which appears to be over. Pete’s wife Trisha and Gwen’s boyfriend Marcus don’t know about the affair.

Finn doesn’t get a friendly welcome from Emerson. Immediately after Finn arrives in Beaverfield, Cecily gives Finn a written complaint about Emerson from Dr. Ellis, who has accused Emerson of illegal trapper activities in her complaint. When Finn goes over to Emerson’s cabin to investigate, Emerson (carrying a rifle and wearing wolf hide with the wolf’s head still attached) angrily chases Finn off of his property.

A huge snowstorm soon hits the area, leaving all transportation to and from Beaverfield temporarily suspended. Somehow, everyone in this story except for Emerson ends up at the Beaverfield Inn for shelter. And that’s when the killings start with a vengeance.

“Werewolves Within” has such distinct characters that it’s very easy to tell all of them apart from each other. The movie has fun with spoofing stereotypes. Dr. Sherman is an unsmiling, “gloom and doom” type who might or might not be a mad scientist. Gay couple Devon and Joaquim are fussy and argumentative. Trisha and Pete are superficial, materialistic and show hints of being racist and homophobic.

Although there aren’t many set pieces in this movie, which takes place in a very confined area, the production design is done well for this low-budget film. (“Werewolves Within” takes place in Vermont, but the movie was actually filmed in New York state.) Of particular note is the Axe Den, a recreational room that’s on the Beaverfield Inn property. It’s Cecily’s favorite place to hang out, and she introduces Finn to an empty Axe Den during the snowstorm.

The Axe Den is a kitschy place filled with vintage arcade games and a jukebox that has mostly pop songs from the 1990s. Ace of Base’s hit “The Sign” is prominently featured in “Werewolves Within,” with great comedic effect. And it should come as no surprise that the Axe Den is where the movie’s biggest showdown happens.

The very self-aware comedy of “Werewolves Within” doesn’t come at the expense of delivering a genuinely engaging mystery. Dr. Ellis has been able to determine in her makeshift lab at the inn that a wolf-like animal is responsible for this killing spree. However, some of the people trapped at the Beaverfield Inn aren’t convinced. Who or what is the real killer? The answer is revealed at the end of the movie.

All of the cast members handle their roles with aplomb, even though some characters verge on parody. Most of the emotional core of the film is with Finn and Cecily, who have to navigate their attraction to each other during the growing terror about the killer on the loose. Richardson and Vayntrub have believable chemistry as a would-be couple caught in this precarious situation. Their comedic timing is one of the highlights of “Werewolves Within.”

The comedy in the movie isn’t for everyone, because some viewers might find it to be too glib or too on-the-nose. But for everyone else—especially for people who like horror comedies with a cheeky tone— there’s a lot that’s appealing about “Werewolves Within.” This movie would make a great double feature with 2020’s “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” another werewolf horror movie that combines comedy with a murder mystery.

Ruben’s direction of “Werewolves Within” keeps it at a brisk pace (the movie’s total running time is 97 minutes), so there’s little chance of boredom setting in with viewers. The movie doesn’t over-rely on slapstick comedy but instead derives a lot of comedy from how the cast members interpret the snappy dialogue. “Werewolves Within” is the type of horror film where it’s very entertaining to watch these characters for the entire movie, even if you’d never want to be stuck in snowstorm with most of them.

IFC Films released “Werewolves Within” in select U.S. cinemas on June 25, 2021, and on digital and VOD on July 2, 2021.

Review: ‘Bad Therapy,’ starring Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry and Michaela Watkins

April 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Anna Pniowsky, Alicia Silverstone and Rob Corddry in “Bad Therapy” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Bad Therapy”

Directed by William Teitler

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the dark comedy “Bad Therapy” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asian Americans) representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged married couple go to a relationship therapist, who’s actually a manipulative, toxic person who tries to break up the couple.

Culture Audience: “Bad Therapy” will appeal mostly to people who like to see movies about troubled marriages or unhinged characters, but the film’s uneven tone and sloppy, predictable screenplay make this movie a disappointing waste of time.

Michaela Watkins in “Bad Therapy” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Bad Therapy” (directed by William Teitler) is supposed to be a dark comedy or a comedy/drama or a dramedy, but the movie’s three lead actors have such contradictory styles in their performances that it makes the entire tone of this poorly written film look completely out of whack. Nancy Doyne adapted the “Bad Therapy” screenplay from her novel “Judy Small,” which was the original title of the movie. However, the “Judy Small” book isn’t even listed on Amazon, so it might be difficult for viewers to find out how the movie differs from the book.

Judy Small is the name of the family/relationship therapist who wreaks havoc on the lives of a Los Angeles married couple—real-estate agent Susan Howard (played by Alicia Silverstone) and TV executive Bob Howard (played by Rob Corddry)—who are both in their early 40s and have been married for three years. Living with the couple is Susan’s rebellious 13-year-old daughter Louise (played Anna Pniowsky), who does things like smoke marijuana and defy her school’s dress code. Louise is Susan’s daughter from Susan’s first marriage, which tragically ended when her first husband (who was her college sweetheart) died in a fishing accident. Bob has apparently adopted Louise, since her last name is also Howard.

At the beginning of the story, Susan is feeling restless and discontented in her career and in her marriage. Being a single mother for five years has left her constantly worried about financial security, while Bob is the exact opposite and doesn’t think they need to worry about money. (It’s revealed later in the film that Bob is head of programming at a network called the Nature Channel, where he makes $125,000 a year.)

Bob suggests that they have a biological child together, but Susan doesn’t really like the idea because it would be difficult for her to conceive a child at her age, and she’s feeling uncertain about where the marriage is going. “I want a break from all the drudgery!” she wails at one point in the movie.

There are also indications that Susan is a worrisome control freak. She nags at Bob (who’s not overweight) about what he eats, by warning him that he could have a heart attack. During breakfast, after Susan leaves for work, he throws his bran oatmeal in the garbage disposal and orders a cholesterol-heavy meal over the phone from a local restaurant. Later in the story, it’s revealed that Susan has forbidden Louise from taking public transportation, presumably because she doesn’t think public transportation is safe enough for her 13-year-old daughter.

It’s clear that one of the reasons why their marriage has hit a rough patch is precisely because Bob and Susan are total opposites in their outlooks on life. Susan is someone who’s the type of person who’s very judgmental and likes to have specific goals and plans (and she tends to get anxious if things don’t go her way), while Bob is more of a “go with the flow” easygoing type of person. In the beginning of the movie, before they begin therapy, Susan also expresses regret that she and Bob didn’t properly discuss the issue of them having a child together. And now, Bob wants Susan to have a child with him, but she doesn’t share that same wish.

One day, Susan has lunch with her close friend Roxy (played by Aisha Tyler), who’s a materialistic and shallow trophy wife to a wealthy business mogul. Roxy tells Susan the happy news that she’s pregnant with triplets after going through fertility treatments. Roxy also mentions that she and her husband have been seeing a relationship therapist. Susan asks Roxy for the name of the therapist, because Susan says that she and Bob might need marriage counseling.

When Susan brings up the idea of marriage counseling to Bob, he is extremely reluctant, but Susan eventually persuades him. “If it will make you happy, we’ll try it,” says Bob. It won’t be long before Susan and Bob regret that decision.

Judy Small works in a small office in a strip mall—the first indication that her practice is not very successful. She starts off the couple’s first session by getting Susan and Bob to talk about themselves and why they think they need counseling. Susan does most of the talking during this first session, while Bob admits to Judy that he really doesn’t want to be there.

Susan tells Judy what her first marriage was like (it was very happy, she says), but her marriage to Bob is on shaky ground: “I want our marriage to be the real thing,” Susan says of her relationship with Bob. “For some reason, I don’t feel satisfied.” On the other hand, Bob doesn’t think their marriage is in trouble.

Susan actually does too much talking during that first session, because she reveals something that is news to Bob: She’s worried that Bob might start having inappropriate thoughts about Louise, now that Louise has hit puberty age. Susan bases this suspicion on how she thinks Bob has been looking at Louise recently. Bob vehemently denies that he thinks about Louise sexually, and he tells Susan how hurtful it was for her to think he could do something so heinous. Judy suggests that Louise join them in their next therapy session so that she can observe their family dynamics.

However, enough was said in this first session for Judy to see the cracks in the Howards’ marriage and to use those vulnerabilities to her advantage. One of the first clues that Judy might intend to cause trouble is how she openly flirts with Bob in front of Susan, by saying how extremely attractive he is and that he must get a lot of female attention. Of course, Susan misses this big red flag because she tends to be self-absorbed and is the type of person who loves to hear herself complain about her life.

Judy sees even more ways to manipulate the couple when Louise reluctantly joins them for the next session, and Judy sees that Louise resents Susan for being overprotective. And then, Judy’s devious machinations really start to kick into high gear when she suggests (and Susan readily agrees) that she counsel Susan and Bob alone in separate sessions. During these separate sessions, Judy uses information that they tell her to drive a wedge of distrust between Bob and Susan, especially when it comes to a past cheating fling that Bob had while he was dating Susan. (He lets this information slip during a solo session with Judy.)

As the therapy sessions continue, it becomes pretty clear that Judy wants to seduce Bob. And she encourages Susan to have an affair with another man, but Susan completely hates the idea and doesn’t want to do it. Because Bob and Susan have separate sessions with Judy, she’s able to manipulate them into thinking that they’re falling out of love with each other.

“Bad Therapy” has some dialogue and lines that are downright cringeworthy. At one point in the movie, Judy says to Bob: “Trust is like a muscle. Once it’s torn, it’s difficult to repair.”

It should come as no surprise that Judy has a dark past, which is revealed in the movie. There are also people from her past—including someone named Dr. Ed Kingsley (played by David Paymer)—who can threaten to expose Judy and her secrets. What could have been the most suspenseful part of the film is actually handled in a very clunky and unrealistic way.

In addition to the screenplay’s flaws (some of Bob and Susan’s actions make no sense after they see more of Judy’s true colors), the movie’s three main actors deliver performances as if they’re in three different movies.

Silverstone portrays Susan as an over-emoting neurotic who’s in a wacky comedy. (In “Bad Therapy,” she gives Jim Carrey a run for his money with rubber-faced expressions.) It’s by far the most annoying, worst performance in the movie, which is a shame because Silverstone is capable of doing better acting. (Her small but tragically impactful role in the horror film “The Lodge” is a recent example of how she can show good acting talent.)

Corddry is playing Bob as if he’s in straightforward drama, which this movie is most definitely not. Because Bob has cheated on Susan before (prior to their marriage), the movie drops major hints that he’s capable of cheating on Susan again, especially since she’s become a bit of shrew in their marriage. Unfortunately, Corddry (who was such a comedic scene-stealer in “Hot Tub Time Machine”) has almost no sense of humor at all in portraying Bob. It’s too bad that Corddry plays Bob in such a bland, forgettable way because Bob is a character who reacts to things, so the character had great potential for comedic possibilities, but it ended up being a missed opportunity.

As for Watkins, she comes closest to the movie’s intended dark comedy. But the way she portrays the unhinged Judy is as a hollow, not-very-smart villain. Even with some of the terrible dialogue in the movie, there was a way for Watkins to elevate the character’s “femme fatale” appeal, but she didn’t. Instead, Judy just comes across as creepy and weird, when charm and intelligence would be needed for this type of corrupt therapist to fool people.

One of the odd things about “Bad Therapy” is that it spends too much time veering off into subplots that are not necessary to the story. There are several scenes that show what teenage Louise does at school and in her free time that didn’t need to be in the film, except for one scene that takes place on a bus. While on the bus, Louise (defying her mother’s orders not to take public transportation) and her best friend Zooey (played by Paris Bravo) happen to see Judy walking down the street. It’s a scene where Judy shows her demented side.

And there’s another unnecessary subplot involving Bob’s co-worker Reed (played by Haley Joel Osment), who confesses to Bob that he’s had an office fling with someone in the accounting department named Annabelle (played by Sarah Shahi), who left her husband because of the affair. And now, Annabelle wants to run off with Reed and move to Mexico. Reed, who wants to break up with Annabelle, has a live-in girlfriend who’s eager to get married. Reed has no intentions of breaking up with his live-in girlfriend and moving to Mexico.

Reed tells Bob that he’s afraid that if he ends the relationship with Annabelle in the wrong way, she might accuse him of sexual harassment later to get revenge on him. Bob has no business getting involved, but he does anyway, by volunteering to talk to Annabelle about it. And where does he have this private and sensitive discussion with Annabelle that’s supposed to prevent a possibly messy #MeToo situation? In a bar, where Annabelle promptly puts the moves on Bob.

It’s not really a spoiler to reveal this subplot about Bob’s colleagues Reed and Annabelle, because it really has no bearing on what happens in the rest of the movie, which has one too many filler scenes. And the scenes that are necessary are just substandard and often dull, with awkward performances from the three lead actors. How bad is “Bad Therapy”? It makes Lifetime movies (which are often about troubled romances and crazy/evil women) look like masterpieces.

Gravitas Ventures released “Bad Therapy” on digital and VOD on April 17, 2020.

Review: ‘The Way Back’ (2020), starring Ben Affleck

March 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

Ben Affleck (pictured in front, at far right) in “The Way Back” (Photo by Richard Foreman/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Way Back” (2020)

Directed by Gavin O’Connor

Culture Representation: Taking place in the beach city of San Pedro, California, the drama “The Way Back” has a racially diverse (white, Latino, African American) cast of characters representing the middle class.

Culture Clash: An alcoholic man, who was a star basketball player in high school, returns to his alma mater as a basketball coach while battling his addiction.

Culture Audience: “The Way Back” will appeal mostly to people who want to see stories about addiction or basketball (and there might be some curiosity over how the story compares to star Ben Affleck’s real-life personal problems), but the movie doesn’t show anything that hasn’t been done before in TV movies of the week.

Janina Gavankar and Ben Affleck in “The Way Back” (Photo by Richard Foreman/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Not to be confused with director Peter Weir’s Soviet gulag-escape drama “The Way Back” (which was released in 2010), the 2020 release of “The Way Back” (directed by Gavin O’Connor) is a drama about an entirely different struggle: alcoholism and coping with the death of a child. Ben Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a lonely middle-aged guy who’s living a dead-end, self-destructive existence in San Pedro, California. In the beginning of the story, he has a job as a day laborer in construction. When he’s not on the job, he gets drunk at local bars before he heads home, where he lives by himself. Jack is obviously in a lot of emotional pain, but the story unfolds in layers over why he’s in turmoil and why he’s become an alcoholic.

On one of the many days that he’s woken up with a hangover, Jack unexpectedly gets a call to meet with Father Edward Devine (played by John Aylward), the head of Bishop Hayes High School, a Catholic school that is Jack’s alma mater. Father Edward asks Jack if he would like to be the head coach of the school’s basketball team. He’s up front in telling Jack that the team loses almost all of its games, but they could really use guidance from Jack, who was a star basketball player at the school from 1993 to 1995. It’s also the last period of time when the Bishop Hayes basketball team made it to the national finals.

Jack’s immediate reaction is to say no, but Father Edwards pleads with Jack to think it over and call him the next day with his decision. Before he makes that call, Jack spends some time rehearsing the words he’ll say to decline the offer. The next thing you know, Jack is being introduced to the team as the new head coach.

The assistant coach is Dan Espinosa (played by Al Madrigal), an algebra teacher at the school. Dan graduated from Bishop Hayes High School a few years after Jack did. When Dan was a basketball player in high school, he idolized Jack. Dan wasn’t a very good player back then (he mostly stayed on the bench), so he knows his limitations and is excited about working with Jack.

“The Way Back” has two very different trailers. The first trailer, which is the more accurate one, shows how much of a screw-up alcoholic Jack is and how he happens to coach a basketball team. The second trailer takes more of a “feel good” sports angle by playing up the basketball aspects of the movie. There are some thrilling basketball scenes in the film, but the movie is really about Jack’s turbulent journey as an alcoholic.

During the course of the movie, viewers find out that Jack has been separated from his wife Angela (whom he calls “Ange”) for more than a year. Jack has been an alcoholic for several years, but his marriage reached a breaking point after the 2017 death of their only child, an 8-year-old son named Michael. (How he died is revealed in the movie, and it’s an emotional trigger when something similar happens to someone on Angela’s side of the family.)

Jack’s main emotional support system comes from his younger sister Beth (played by Michaela Watkins) and her family, which consists of her husband and pre-teen son and daughter. Jack’s mother has recently moved in with Beth and her family. Over a Thanksgiving dinner that turns argumentative, long-simmering resentments come to the surface.

Jack is somewhat jealous that Beth is doing better in life than he is, and it adds to his feelings of self-loathing. Beth shows concern over Jack’s obvious drinking problem, but he thinks she’s overreacting and being a nag. He’s also annoyed because Angela has recently called Beth, not Jack, to check up on Jack to see how he’s doing.

Eventually, Angela (played by Janina Gavankar) meets with Jack in person to tell him news that he wasn’t expecting to hear: She has a new man in her life (his name is Nick), and her separation from Jack is probably going to lead to divorce. Jack is upset, but he channels his frustrations into his new job as a basketball coach.

As the team’s new coach, Jack is abrasive and prone to cursing a lot. He gets reprimanded multiple times for his foul-mouthed, short-tempered behavior by the team’s chaplain, Father Mark Whelan (played by Jeremy Radin), who’s there for spiritual guidance and to make sure that the team and the coaches follow the school’s moral code of conduct.

There are many expected scenes in the movie of Jack doing the “shouting coach” thing. There are also some basketball scenes using borderline hokey freeze-frames and slow-motion shots that give this film a “TV movie of the week” tone. It’s during the quieter moments, when Jack is alone and facing his demons, that the movie has more emotional resonance.

Under Jack’s leadership, the team predictably starts to win games (as seen in the movie’s trailers), but this isn’t a basketball movie drama like “Hoosiers,” “Blue Chips” or “Glory Road” (all featuring “tough love” coaches), where the biggest thing at stake is a basketball championship. In “The Way Back,” the biggest thing at stake is Jack’s physical and emotional health. As such, the basketball players’ individual personalities aren’t given as much screen time as you might think they would get.

There are some standout players on the team. Brandon Durrett (played by Brandon Wilson), a withdrawn loner, is the most talented player and Jack’s favorite. As the team starts to win more games, Brandon comes out of his shell and gains confidence. He starts to think that he might have a shot at a college scholarship and possibly the big leagues of the National Basketball Association.

However, Brandon’s father Russ (played by T.K. Carter) never goes to see his son play and isn’t very supportive of Brandon’s basketball dreams. When Jack goes to visit Russ at his shrimp fishery job to encourage him to support Brandon, Russ brushes Jack off and tells Jack that basketball is a long-shot, short-lived career that will only disappoint Brandon. He wants to see his son succeed in a job where he won’t be considered “washed-up” by the time he’s in his 40s.

Other players on the team whose personalities are distinct are Marcus Parrish (played by Melvin Gregg), the team’s cocky showoff; sharpshooter Kenny Dawes (played by Will Ropp), who’s a ladies’ man; Chubbs Hendricks (played by Charles Lott Jr.), an overweight guy who’s predictably the team jokester; Sam Garcia (played by Fernando Luis Vega), the guy most likely to give pep talks to the other players; and Bobby Freeze (played by Ben Irving), who’s a solid team player.

In doing publicity for “The Way Back,” Affleck has given candid interviews about the parallels between him and the Jack Cunningham character. Over the past several years, Affleck has been open about his addiction issues (alcoholism and gambling), which were among the reasons for his messy divorce from actress Jennifer Garner, the mother of their three kids. During filming of “The Way Back,” Affleck publicly had a relapse in his alcoholism. And “The Way Back” director O’Connor says that Affleck had a breakdown during a scene in the movie where Jack meets with Angela and confronts his issues. The scene got so emotionally raw, says O’Connor, that he had to cut most of it out of the film.

Although that scene between Jack and Angela is emotional, it’s a lot more muted than what it could be. It didn’t have to be melodramatic, but it’s not a moment where people in the audience will gasp or get so emotionally moved that they’ll start crying—a reaction that happened a lot in the big confrontation scene between the estranged spouses in the 2019 film “Marriage Story,” writer/director Noah Baumbach’s award-winning divorce drama.

Affleck does a very good job in the role, but the movie’s weakest link is that it’s a predictable script (written by Brad Ingelsby) that handles the subject matter in a way that’s been done so many times before in movies and TV shows. That predictability is one of the reasons why it might be difficult to convince people to pay full price to see this movie in a theater. People might be more inclined to wait until “The Way Back” can be seen on a small screen. However, “The Way Back” isn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours watching a serviceable drama. It’s just not the most essential film about basketball coaches or alcoholism.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “The Way Back” in U.S. cinemas on March 6, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has moved up the digital and VOD release of “The Way Back” to March 24, 2020.

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