The Way Way Back is Where to Go

21 Sep

Man let me tell you, I wish I could have seen this movie when the doldrums of summer left movie theaters mired in a Hell of Super Heroes and Sequels. Apparently The Way Way Back was released in theaters at the end of July, but the only thing I’ve ever seen in the way of advertising was a trailer someone posted on a social media site weeks ago. Either this movie got no marketing or I just happened to miss every theatrical trailer, tv spot, online review (not on this blog), and all other press whatsoever concerning The Way Way Back. Even so, I did find it playing at an independent theater, so I got to see it on the big screen before it was too late.

The Way Way Back

On the surface this movie looks like another one of those cute coming of age teen dramas and if that’s what you expect, it defiantly fits that standard so you won’t be disappointed. It is also so much more because it relies on a lot of really well done little things instead of just repeating big gimmicks. The ensemble cast all play their roles very naturally and you can tell they improvised a lot of great stuff. The main character Duncan is the awkward 14 tear old, struggling to cope with being dragged to his Mom’s boyfriends beach house for the summer. You’d typically get a formulaic Michael Cera or Jesse Eisenberg type character who is a neurotic, self-loathing, whiney pussy. But Duncan reacts to his uncomfortable position with a quiet acceptance that life is just unfair sometimes so just stay silent and out of the way. This allows the other adult characters to share the spotlight, getting laughs at each turn. Steve Carell is dead on in his portrayal of that guy you hate, mostly because he doesn’t know how much you hate him, and also he’s banging your mom. Toni Collette is trying her hardest to balance the relationship with her son while still fitting into the boyfriend’s beach house scene. Allison Janney is the kooky next door neighbor nobody invited over but keeps showing up anyway. She is boisterous, over the top, and comical as a parent who’s always just drunk enough to say something inappropriate and embarrassing. My favorite quote: “Thank God! Another night of drinking alone and I was going to kill myself” she’s hilarious. With Steve Carrell, his friends, and the neighbors, life at the beach house isn’t where Duncan wants to spend the summer. Duncan meets Owen who owns Water Wizz, and offers Duncan an escape in the form of a summer job at his water park. Owen played by Sam Rockwell is the keystone of what makes this movie work, as C. Charles much better describes here. Long story short Sam Rockwell along with the rest of the Water Wizz staff provide a much more positive support system. Duncan gets some great life experiences along the way that give him the confidence to assert himself and reconnect with his mother.

Way Back

I know this doesn’t sound like a solid comedic premise but it is a solid story about a time in our lives we can all remember; that summer job we had that was much more than just a job. The characters fill this framework with their comedic performances, as they play off of one another creating top shelf chemistry. There’s some uncoordinated dancing, singing off key, physical comedy, witty banter, all the simple tried and true funny stuff. I like how the coming of age drama format is somewhat reversed, here the adults are horny, binge drinking, and staying out all night. While their kids restrain their hormonal impulses, and go out and get a job. What I really like about this movie overall is that it is a perfect example of how less is more. There’s no explosions, car chases, violence, nudity, or computer graphics. Instead it chooses to focus on creating very down to Earth realistic characters who populate an especially well written story that’s presented with a bit of emotion and a little more humor.  In doing so The Way Way Back was the most pleasantly surprising movie I’ve seen in a theater in months. It gives me hope that American film makers can still entertain with small budgets and original content. Put this one your list.

Carl Wells

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