Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Way, Way Back - Theatrical Review

Release Date: July 5, 2013

'The Way, Way Back' is a funny, honest and often poignant reminder of the hardships associated with growing up. 

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: Cinema City 
Time: 9:55 pm August 1, 2013    
Projector Type: Digital 2D   
Film Rating: PG-13   
Film Runtime: 1 hr 43 min 
Studio: Fox Searchlight

Loves: Sam Rockwell 
Likes: Toni Collete, Steve Carell, coming-of-age movies 
Neutral: Quirky characters 
Hates: Nothing really 
Director Jim Rash: not only plays triple duty as director/writer/actor in the film, but also plays the Dean on the cult hit television show Community

Duncan (Liam James) is a very socially awkward young teenage boy. He's awkward around girls, generally likes to distance himself from other people and has no real interests beyond listening to his music and tuning everyone and everything out. But when his mother (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend (Steve Carell) decide to take a trip up to their summer beach house, Duncan will discover through a series of encounters with the girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb) and the owner of a local water park (Sam Rockwell) that sometimes you can find out who you truly are in the strangest of places.

Writers/Directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's coming-of-age tale The Way, Way Back is a bit of a revelation amidst a crowded summer of blockbusters and other bloated cinematic fare. It's casual honesty, its richly detailed and nuanced characters and their individual dilemmas or hardships makes for one of the most endearing and thoroughly enjoyable films of the year, let alone the summer. The marketing does have it a little wrong though, this isn't this year's Little Miss Sunshine or Juno, because it is better than both those films on nearly every level.

Fluctuating from comedy to drama isn't an easy thing to pull off, yet Faxon & Rash do it with such an ease as you could be fooled into thinking they weren't even trying. We have seen this story told time and time again, a youthful outcast goes away on a family vacation and learns valuable life lessons, but rarely do we see it executed quite so brilliantly. From the complex relationships of the adults to the blossoming friendships between Duncan and the number of different characters he meets, the film has such a firm grasp on the human condition that everything, from the writing to the direction, just feels so effortlessly endearing.

Those same characters however, while all are interesting in their own ways, still fall victim to the dreaded indie movie curse from time to time. While they all avoid the pitfalls of becoming a stereotypical cliche, some of the supporting characters still feel as though they were drawn with a broad paintbrush (specifically the little kid with the lazy eye who is forced to wear an eyepatch). But for the most part, the cast and the characters they play do their best to avoid those types of labels.

Let's talk about that cast for a second. Film's of this sort often live or die by its casting and with so many possible ways to derail any of the drama or comedy, it is imperative that the right people are cast in the right roles. Faxon & Rash have also nailed that piece of the puzzle though and assembled quite the eclectic mixture of both veteran and more youthful actors who all happen to be pretty fantastic across the board, especially its young lead actor.

Toni Collete, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet and Allison Janney are all more than capable actors and together they form an indie movie dream team ensemble piece. While everyone turns in fantastic performances, Carell in particular stands out due to his playing against type as one of the biggest jerks in the world, it is Rockwell who really steals the show. He is every bit as charismatic, charming, funny and down to Earth as you would hope for from a role model type who takes James' troubled teen under his wing.

Speaking of James, this is his story through and through and he certainly has the talent to not only carry the entire film on his shoulders, but also keep up with his much more seasoned supporting cast. Taking charge in his very first lead role, he makes his eventual transformation from that closeted outcast to the cool kid on the block with nary a hitch in his step and easily earns every emotional beat and each laugh he generates during his journey into young adulthood.

The relationship that is forged between both Rockwell and James' characters is the glue that bonds everything together and really elevates this story to a whole other level which helps separate it from all the other indie movie drivel out there. The interactions between those two actors is the heart and soul of the film and also provides much needed levity from the more serious moments involving Carell and Collete's characters.

There isn't really much more to say, the film is what it is and does what it does well. It's just a simple little film, that doesn't have a lot to say that you haven't seen or heard before, but like most stories, its success rests upon how well it says it. With a fantastic cast, a witty and heartfelt script and a yet another scene stealing performance from Sam Rockwell, it should come as no surprise that The Way Way Back tells its story with all the warmth and humility that anyone of any age can relate to.




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