Saturday, July 13

The Way Way Back Review

The Way Way Back
Dir: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring: Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, and AnnaSophia Robb

From the beginning of The Way Way Back, written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, there is an undeniable sense of nostalgia. The summer vacation, especially poignant in the furnace that is the Arizona summer, is a familiar setting that has been done time and again in film. Fortunately, even though the themes are relatively predictable, The Way Way Back feels timeless in moments and excels at crafting one of the more memorable summer coming-of-age films by being intelligently witty and heartfelt.

Duncan (Liam James) is a sullen, awkward teen being dragged to a sleepy beach town on summer vacation with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Trent is an arrogant type, humiliating Duncan in the first few moments of the film. Duncan is initially lost in the beach city though finds acceptance and guidance in the form of Owen (Sam Rockwell), the owner of the local rundown water park. As the summer transpires Duncan becomes more confident with himself leading him to take chances with an equally downtrodden girl and confronting the underlying issues with his makeshift family.

The characters are an interesting mix of familiar, though well designed, archetypes. Duncan’s lead character is in a constant state of change with experience playing the biggest motivating factor for his budding personality. The adults, a term used loosely in this instance, compose a damaged bunch. They are a cautionary collection of individuals who understand their flaws but are neither willing nor motivated to change. Faxon and Rash, who also co-wrote The Descendants, balance the comedy within these characters and their underlying misgivings; look no further than the scene stealing introduction by the spot-on Allison Janney as a boozy, animated neighbor. While these characters add to the amusing charm of the film, they are essentially one-dimensional. Still, they are so well incorporated that they actually work to keep the pace upbeat and funny throughout.

Setting the film in the typified summer getaway location allows for a timeless feeling. Add a family station wagon straight out of National Lampoon’s Vacation and the nostalgia of summer sets in fairly quick. The narrative moves swiftly, transitioning through Duncan’s evolution with amusing sequences of humor. The relationship that Duncan establishes with the two father figures in the film hints at moments that would seem emotionally tethered, but the narrative slights the complex nature of adults and children for more simplistic designs. This restraint keeps the film from progressing the narrative much further than the ordinary and stalls the momentum in certain setups, but it’s still nonetheless a satisfying endeavor watching the plight of the underdog.

The summer coming-of-age film has been overdone in numerous ways but there are a few that continue to indulge in the nostalgic quality that lives within them. Though these films are usually forgotten by the end of summer, The Way Way Back is one of the good ones. A well designed film that is both endearing and funny, a nice compliment for summer cinema.

Monte’s Rating
4.00 out of 5.00

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