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The Way, Way Back (2013)

July 3, 2013

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written by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

produced by: Tom Rice and Kevin J. Walsh

directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material) 

runtime: 103 min.

U.S. release date:  July 3, 2013

 

I think we can all agree that growing up just sucks sometimes. The awkwardness of high school, friends, crushes, it all adds up to one big old hellish time in most people’s lives. Mine was pristine and perfect so I’ve got that going for me. Coming of age stories translate well (always have, imagine they always will) to the big screen and  “The Way, Way Back” is no different.

Traveling with his mom, Pam (Toni Collette), and her boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), awkward 14-year old Duncan (Liam James, recently seen on AMC’s “The Killing”) is less than excited about what his summer holds. Trent owns a beach house on the East Coast in a seaside town that always attracts huge summer crowds, and he’s invited Pam and Duncan to stay with him and his daughter for an extended visit. Still trying to figure out exactly who he is as a teenager, Duncan doesn’t like Trent in the least and struggles to go along with the very social environment all around him. He’s quiet, awkward in social situations, but he’s a smart kid just the same. One day, an exploring Duncan meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), the slacker but well-meaning owner of a local successful water park. Never one to form a fast friendship, Duncan nonetheless gets along with Owen immediately. Maybe this summer vacation won’t be so bad after all.

 

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Coming of age stories deserve a whole genre unto themselves, and that’s meant as a good thing. With films like Stand By Me to Almost Famous, Sixteen Candles to The Sandlot and many others, it’s a familiar genre. Again, that’s a good thing. Directors, co-writers and co-stars Nat Faxon and Jim Rash team up and do it all here, and they do it all really well. I loved this movie. It is that rare movie that is content to be itself. It never tries to be something else. It is quite content being a smart, well-written, well thought out, entertaining, funny, dramatic emotionally effective flick. They filmed along the Massachusetts coast in three different cities, giving the story a realistic backdrop. It’s summer vacation, but not quite what we’ve seen before. Composer Rob Simonsen’s score is appropriately low-key, soft and natural with a little bit of quirky indie comedy/emo mindset.

We see this summer through the eyes of 14-year old Duncan, a shy, quiet kid who’s still dealing with the effects of his parents’ divorce a couple years down the road. Just 16 years old, James does a great job with the part. He gets the teenage angst down without being annoying, and makes a sympathetic character who’s believable and actually looks and acts….like a teenager.

He especially doesn’t like Carell’s Trent (much more on that later), wants his mom to stand up for herself, and in the meantime, doesn’t plan on spending anymore time with them than he has to. We get to see him opening up to Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb, “Soul Surfer”), a pretty girl vacationing next door and similarly from a divorced family. Courtesy of Rockwell’s Owen, we see him opening up in general for the better. Kudos to Mr. James though. In an age of 29-year old actors playing teenagers, James shows a knack for making a personable, likable character who you’re truly rooting for.

 

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In his summer misadventures, Duncan finds solace at a crappy water park that’s a time capsule to the 1980s (with a solid running joke there). He meets adults who he bonds with, finds a community that is welcoming of who he is, encouraging him to be himself while also branching out. I love Rockwell in just about anything he does, and this is one of his best parts. As Owen, he plays the type of friend that every kid should have. Is it a somewhat obvious part? Yes, you’re supposed to like him. His motor-mouthed, work-avoiding, always ready with a joke tendencies brings this character to life though. The genuine friendship/dynamic that develops between him and Duncan is pitch perfect, authentic in a way script writers dream of achieving. It’s not a father-son, brother-brother relationship, but instead a little of both. Mostly though, they’re just friends, and that’s all Duncan needs.

The movie runs just 96 minutes (I would have loved a longer version, but as is, it’s pretty perfect) and puts all the talents of its very talented ensemble cast on display beyond James and Rockwell. Collette does a good job as Pam, Duncan’s mom who’s struggling with her own post-divorce life. Carell is an incredible asshole as Trent, Pam’s year-long boyfriend who identifies Duncan as a ‘3’ on a scale of 1-to-10. A despicable character, one you hate immediately. Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry play Joan and Kip, a married couple and summer friends’ of Trent who are always ready for a party. Allison Janney plays Betty, Trent’s over-bearing but generally well-meaning neighbor and Susanna’s divorced mom. No filter here with Betty, just brutal honesty with no censor, especially with her son, Peter (River Alexander), and his wandering eyeliterally. Also look for Zoe Levin as Trent’s dramatic, very-teenage teenage daughter.

And then there’s the crew at Water Wizz park that Duncan meets. Beyond Owen, look for Maya Rudolph as Caitlyn, a supervisor who goes up and down with Owen, writer/director/star Faxon as Roddy, Owen’s longtime friend, co-worker and expert slide operator (see it, it’ll come together), and writer/director/star Rash as Lewis, the germaphobe, mousey shack operator who’s always one day away from leaving the job and the park.

The more I think about this movie, the more I like it. I loved the look of it, sunny and sandy. As I mentioned before, the Massachusetts beachfront ends up being an additional character. Anyone who’s ever been on vacation in a lake/oceanfront setting has seen little summer towns like this. Loved the music, loved the characters, the humor and the laughs, the drama and the reality of it. I especially liked the ending, with everyone ending up right where they should be.

 

THE WAY, WAY BACK

 

RATING: ****

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. windi permalink
    July 3, 2013 10:53 pm

    sounds like a fantastic movie. I’ll have to keep my eye open for it. I love these kinds of movies….

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