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Movie Review: 'The Way Way Back'

The Way Way Back

Starring Liam James, Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell
Directed by Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Rated PG-13

Two of my favorite coming-of-age movies are Almost Famous and Superbad.  I can relate to these movies like no other.  And with any good coming-of-age story worth its weight in gold, the movie and the characters will give you something to relate to.  It doesn’t have to be the entire make up of the antagonist, but maybe just a little sampling, something that shows you are not alone in the world when it comes to feeling a bit out of place.  Without it, you end up with movies like Blue Lagoon, Coyote Ugly or Hook.  Everyone who reads this probably has their own favorite coming-of-age movie and a special reason why it’s their favorite.    The Way Way Back, the newest entry into the genre, won’t set the world on fire with its originality, but there is a lot to like here and it almost, almost gets everything it sets out to be right….really, it’s so close.

The  Way Way Back was written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.   Don’t recognize the names?  That’s okay, but you should know they wrote, and won an Oscar for The Descendents.  The Way Way Back doesn’t have the sense of gloom that the Descendents did and despite its best efforts, also doesn’t have what made the Descendents so great, a fully formed screenplay.  But where it missteps there, it makes up for with a great chemistry, more than its share of laughs and Sam Rockwell.  Because we all know, Sam Rockwell just makes things better…it’s a proven fact.

The movies focal point is centered on 14 year old Duncan (Liam James), a kid who’s mother Pam (Toni Collette) is dating the concerned on the outside but big time douche on the inside Trent (Steve Carrell).  The 3 of them, along with Trent’s daughter, are headed to Trent’s summer house.  Duncan, not wanting to be there, involved nor wanting anything to do with Trent, finds himself at the local water park Water Wizz, run by Owen (Sam Rockwell), a guy with a case of arrested development.  The two strike up a friendship, as Owen seems some of himself in Duncan and understands why Duncan would want to stay away from his family life.  So he offers Duncan a job.  Duncan starts to find himself and unexpectedly finds a budding romance with his next door neighbor Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb). 

The main success of this film is the relationship between Duncan and Owen.  Rockwell as Owen doesn’t have a bad moment in the film and it was good to see a story where an older character, seeing himself in someone younger, helps that younger charter find their way, without it getting weird.  And it’s the reverse as well as Duncan helps Owen grow up a bit and become the guy that solidifies Caitlyn’s (Maya Rudolph), reasoning for sticking around working at the water park longer than she intended, wasn’t in vain.

The movie has a treasure trove of interesting characters that ultimately end up being a little too cliché and underdeveloped.   Carrell’s Trent is the one with the most potential to bust out of the box and become something more than what ends up on screen.   But fortunately for The Way Way Back, the talent on screen (including Allison Janney, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet) the chemistry they have together and what they bring to each of their characters wins out over what little material they’re actually given to work with.

Given a little bit more time, The Way Way Back could’ve been something special.  It could’ve been your favorite coming-of-age film.  And for some it may end up being just that.  But for the rest, The Way Way Back is an enjoyable 2 hours, a really enjoyable 2 hours mind you, but nothing really more.

Reader Comments (1)

I meant to say protagonist, not antagonist. That was a rookie move.

Thursday, July 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterCraig Dietz

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