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Monday, August 12, 2013

Review: The Way Way Back

Way Way Worth Watching

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: July 16, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 103 minutes
Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash        
Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Cast: Liam James, Steve Carell, 
Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, 
Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, 
Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, 
Amanda Peet, River Alexander, 
Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Duncan (Liam James) is so awkward that it hurts to watch. He's a sad, shy 14-year-old boy completely uncomfortable in his own skin and stuck in that painful period where he's no longer a little kid but nowhere close to being an adult. 

It doesn't help that his mother's boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), is completely overbearing and insensitive. He's the kind of person who gets hostile if the rules to a silly children's board game aren't followed exactly as the instructions specify. You know the type!

At the beginning of "The Way Way Back," Trent asks Duncan to rate himself on a scale from 1 to 10. The timid boy meekly says he's a 6; the obnoxious Trent cuts him even further down to size by calling him a 3. It's a gut-wrenching putdown, and a heartbreaking moment – for the child and the audience.

During this conversation, Duncan is sitting in "the way, way back" of Trent's station wagon – with the luggage. His position forces him to face away from everyone else in the car and stare at the road instead.

His mother, Pam (Toni Collette), is clueless in love – oblivious to the effect Trent is having on her sensitive son.

They're spending the summer at Trent's beach house. The boy is hopelessly lost and alone, flopping around like a fish out of water. In one sad scene, he's the lone child in a dinner table full of laughing adults. In another, he sits pathetically by himself at the beach while everyone else splashes and frolics around him. And then there's the slightly older girl next door, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), who he is clearly intimidated by. (He mentions the weather to her!)

It isn't until he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), a water park employee, that he begins to break out of his shell. But even in that detail, "The Way Way Back" gets it right. The Duncan at the end of the movie isn't suddenly smooth and cool; he's still a somewhat awkward kid – just a happier one.

The film is populated with great supporting characters:

There's Betty, the booze-soaked neighbor bronzed by the sun (an almost unrecognizable Allison Janney). She forces her son, Peter (River Alexander), to wear an eye-patch because he's cross-eyed and she thinks that makes people uncomfortable. Unfortunately for him, his patch isn't black like a pirate's; it's neon green with babyish cartoon characters.

Kip and Joan (Rob Corddry and Amada Peet) also live in the area. They seem almost like "extras" at first, but one of them ends up playing a pivotal role.

Caitlin (Maya Rudolph) works at the park. Owen is obviously smitten with her, and she clearly feels a little something for him too because she puts up with his endless teasing. Rudolph gives Caitlin the perfect mixture of sweetness and sass.

Two of my favorites are Roddy and Lewis (played by the writers and directors of the movie, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash). Roddy is slightly perverted and has fun admiring the female swimmers; Lewis is bald and bespectacled, with a bad Hulk Hogan mustache and an even worse case of OCD.

There's also Kyle (Robert Capron from the "Wimpy Kid" movies) and his buddies as loud-mouthed but harmless water park customers.

"The Way Way Back" has a big cast, but it really belongs to Liam James, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Carell. The boy's relationship with each of them is what drives the story forward. Rockwell's character is friendly, understanding, and a role model without ever being a dull goody-goody. Carell excels at portraying an insufferable blowhard who has no idea how to relate to a raw, stiff, teenage bundle of nerves. Both characters are rough around the edges, but that manifests itself in very different ways.

Rockwell and Carell don't share a scene until the end, and when they finally do meet, it's subtly handled but satisfying. They both play somewhat "against type" and succeed brilliantly, but it is James who anchors the movie with his realistic depiction of a young teenager who initially feels left out and unable to fit in anywhere.

The "3 out of 10" scene at the start of the film is actually based on a real-life conversation between a young Jim Rash and his stepfather. That must be why it resonates so powerfully. The pen truly is mightier than the sword!

The ending, which I won't spoil, mirrors the beginning. There are no conclusive answers given, but there is a subtle character shift (literally) that lets the audience know that things have changed.

"The Way Way Back" is wonderful. I expect it to be in "the way way front" of my top ten list at the end of the year.

1 comment:

  1. Perfect review, no spoilers, but just enough for me to get all the "inside" jokes since I have already seen it! "Bravo!" :)


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