Archive for August, 2013

The Way Way Back (2013)

Posted in Comedy on August 1, 2013 by The Confused Critic

(***½ out of ****)

Way Back 4

Synopsis: Duncan (Liam James) is a shy, perpetually uncomfortable 14-year old forced to spend the summer with his mom (Toni Collette) and her hostile boyfriend (Steve Carell) at the latter’s beach house. While the adults of the town (an amalgam of Wareham and Buzzards Bay, MA) regress and indulge their appetites for sex, alcohol, and light drugs, the teens are left to their own devices with little supervision. Feeling agonizingly out of place and miserable, Duncan explores the town and ends up growing close to Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of Water Wizz, a local waterpark that has not changed much since its establishment thirty years prior. Detecting his unhappiness, Owen provides Duncan with a part-time job, a never-ending supply of good-natured sass, and a more optimistic outlook. Life lessons are experienced by all.

Review: Not fully an independent film, not quite a major studio product, The Way Way Back is a welcome change of pace in a summer dominated by superheroes, apocalypses, and the baffling existence of Grown Ups 2. It is a relatively quiet, understated movie that treads over the well-worn grounds of young love, adolescent-adult tension, and the angst of the early teenage years without feeling clichéd or melodramatic. Audiences are treated to a feel-good movie that wisely steers clear of the sap and eccentricity to which films like this often resort. Skillfully mixing the drama and comedy, it manages to evade predictability and remains engaging throughout.

One of the film’s biggest accomplishments is effectively integrating and developing each of its characters to a level that moves them beyond mere archetypes. Endearing or antagonistic, directors/co-writers/co-stars Jim Rash and Nat Faxon have created an effective ensemble of colorful players who are each indispensable to the unique chemistry of the film. Sam Rockwell gives one of his most dynamic and enjoyable performances, which says a lot when considering his impressive filmography. Similarly, Steve Carell supplies a highly believable villain that will likely silence critics who suggest that he plays the same character in every role he is given. Furthermore, the unpolished performances of some of the more inexperienced, younger actors provides a natural tone, making them appear legitimately gawky and uncomfortable in their surroundings. Supporting players such as Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, and a surly Allison Janney also manage to add crucial humor and pathos and ensure that no one actor could possibly possess all of the glory.

The Way Way Back might not appeal to the viewer who is seeking a traditional, unambiguous resolution to their movies. Though not without its share of cinematic conveniences, the film attempts to ground its characters in reality and eschews the temptation to give the protagonists the easy solutions that they seek. While, more often than not, morality overcomes debauchery, Duncan is forced to accept the fact that he does, in fact, lack the autonomy he desires and will not be able to comprehend the motivations of the adults surrounding him. He is forced to learn that some aspects of his life will always be flawed, some people are jerks who never get their comeuppance, and sometimes we cannot obtain the easy closure for which we long. Instead, the audience observes subtle changes in the characters which are not initially apparent. Regardless, if you are one of those people who bemoan the lack of original storylines in today’s movies, you owe this movie at least one watch.

The Confused Take: I am admittedly a sucker for the coming-of-age genre and all of its awkward charms. As long as the quirk factor is reigned in to a bearable degree, such films have the potential to be simultaneously realistic, sentimental, and funny. If you are someone who enjoyed the core elements of Adventureland, Stand By Me, Sixteen Candles, or Garden State (minus the constant brooding), you will at least get some level of enjoyment out of The Way Way Back. Having grown up in Massachusetts and patronized Water Wizz in my younger years, I also felt a special connection to the film and could not help but relate to some of the painful feelings that Duncan faced. At the very least, this movie will give you a breather from the other-worldly chaos and bombast of this summer’s string of numbing, though often enjoyable, franchise mainstays. Hopefully, you’ll also come away with a newfound/renewed appreciation for Sam Rockwell.