We Go Way Back is another tale of a twentysomething struggling to get a grip on their life. Kate (Amber Hubert) has just turned 23, and she works a day job that’s defined—in amusingly minimalist detail—by a desk, a few piles of paperwork, and a woman who occasionally scolds her for making personal calls. Kate also works part time at a local theater, primarily performing thankless tasks in the hopes of landing a starring role in a production, which soon happens with the title role in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler—if she can master the original Norwegian text that is.
Still heartbroken from a recent relationship, Kate drinks and smokes and casually sleeps around. She’s suffering that common new-adult disappointment: Nothing is really wrong with her life, but nothing is really right either. In other words, Kate is beginning to suspect that she may have grown up to become simply another normal person with wounds and doubts, which soon manifest themselves in the appearance of herself as a still-hopeful 13-year-old (Maggie Brown).
For maybe 30 minutes, We Go Way Back captures the casual sadness of that first realization that life is more, or maybe less, than the glamorous mysteries and ambitions you carried around as a child. Hubert doesn’t make the common inexperienced actor’s mistake of over-enunciating every line; she allows you to come to her, and she astutely captures the physicality of an attractive young woman who undervalues herself. Kate slouches, dresses in unflattering button-up shirts, and generally recedes from the spotlight, and Hubert is often moving; it’s the sort of quiet, unassuming little performance that slowly works on you as a film progresses. As the young Kate, Brown isn’t as good; her inexperience is more obvious, but that nearly works in her favor, as the amateurishness reflects the precociousness the film otherwise rather obviously contrasts with the older Kate’s resignation.
We Go Way Back is softer and kinder than Lynn Shelton’s more recent break-out film, the smug and cruel Humpday. But this film still doesn’t add up to much. The arrival of young Kate—a turn toward the surreal—is a plot development that never adds anything to the story of the present-day Kate. More interesting is what Kate might make of the probably hopelessly misguided production of Hedda Gabler, but that thread, like a number of others, is allowed to dangle.
And the scenes have no rhythm or shape. Shelton, like many directors associated with the mumblecore movement, seems to believe that a pointed lack of conventional storytelling instantly connotes integrity, when it’s really just indulgent and dull. (As Armond White once wrote, you have to work really hard for exceedingly minute pleasures in many mumblecore films.) That said, We Go Way Back has some loving moments and it suggests that Shelton might have a rewarding movie in her if she’s able to somehow wed this film’s occasional charm with the sort-of polish she displayed in Humpday.