Writer and director Tony McNamara made Ashby with the desire to show “someone looking forward and someone looking backward,” and ended up with a heartfelt – if contrived – movie with a number of utterly watchable performances.

Ashby Review

Nat Wolff stars in Ashby as Ed Wallis, a modern nerd with an athletic streak. His foil, representing the “fifties view of the world,” is Mickey Rourke as Ashby Holt, a retired assassin with 93 kills to his name and three months to live. Set in the suburbs of Virginia, Ashby gives a view of these two men at opposite ends of their lives, fleshing out each other – and themselves.

Setting up Ed and Ashby’s meet-cute, McNamara has one of Ed’s teachers give the class an assignment to befriend an elderly person. Additionally, he makes Ed’s father both physically and emotionally absent following a divorce from his mother, who is more concerned with finding a replacement before her youth eludes her than helping her son acclimate to their new surroundings. The conceit is overdone and overcooked here, though saved in good measure by Sarah Silverman’s performance, which makes June likable and engaging despite the odds.

Also in the realm of archetypical characters is Eloise (Emma Roberts), the bespectacled, intellectually and pop culturally simpatico co-ed who sees someone to love in Ed before any of the other students pay him any mind. Like Silverman, Roberts is endearing in the role and ends up feeling underused. She has her own subplot that includes a study into the effects of concussions on members of the football team that she completes with the MRI machine in her house, but the results are never made known.

As for the central relationship in Ashby, that between the titular character and Ed, there’s a believable chemistry between the two, with Rourke hamming it up as the sage yet crazy assassin and Wolff the reserved and careful student. Making Ashby an assassin may have seemed like a way of elevating the familiar plot with a bit of action, a way of maybe luring the eyeballs of those more interested in some high-stakes killing than the poignant chats the men have, but it ends up feeling like a contextually dishonest gimmick. That can also be said for when a football player whacks Ed in the head with a bat in the middle of the street in broad daylight.

Ashby is at its best in its more intimate moments, particularly when Wolff gets a chance to shine – when Ed learns that Ashby is dying, when Ed confronts his mother’s new boyfriend, when he apologizes to Eloise for potentially ruining any chance they had at a relationship. While Wolff is no doubt the star of those scenes, owning the emotions, he’s matched well opposite Rourke, Silverman and Roberts, who all deserved a bit more to work with in the film.

Ashby premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Its release date is TBD.

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