Thoughts: The Way Way Back – Movie Review

Before I begin, as a disclaimer I am a huge fan of Steve Carell. Not a lot of people really like his sense of humor and it is possible that he might even scare movie goers off, because they don’t like his type of comedy, but personally I think he is hilarious. 🙂

So now, let’s get back to the movie.

I had the opportunity to watch The Way Way Back (TWWB) at an off chance and having seen a run of fairly forgettable “blockbusters” it was nice to watch a low budget flick.

Duncan (Liam James) is a teenage kid who is trying to find his own place in the world. Duncan’s divorced mother, Pam (Toni Collete) has decided to shack up with Trent (Steve Carell), thereby forcing Duncan to deal with an absent father by replacing it with a domineering, judgmental, prick of a “father figure” in Trent and his narcissistic daughter Steph (Zoe Levin).

Duncan prefers to be with his father who is apparently shacking up with a younger version of his mom but is still being dragged off to Trent’s summer vacation home. Once here, Duncan wishes to disappear as he sadly endures humiliation and desolation until he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of the “Water Wizz” water park. Owen is a man-child and immediately takes a liking to Duncan. The two develop a friendship and Owen offers him a job which Duncan gladly accepts. The movie has a few other characters such as Trent’s neighbors Betty, an off the wagon (again) single mum with two kids, one an eye patch wearing 8 year old Peter (River Alexander) and the “girl next door”, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb). Also in the mix are Trent’s “best friends” Kip (Rob Corddy) and his wife Joan (the gorgeous Amanda Peet) who end up becoming their couple friends for all their outings. The movie is about a boy trying to find a place, it’s about imperfections within all of us and it’s about the awkwardness and embarrassment of adolescence and finding friendship.

The opening scene just before the credits sets the tone of the movie, highlighting the equations between all the four characters and sort of sets the movie for a drama movie, though in a very pleasant surprise the movie is nothing of the usual family heavy, tear-shedding drama types and thus makes for a very pleasant viewing.  A Dramedy if you will (Drama + Comedy)

A principle reason why the movie does very well is two people: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. The same partnership that won an Oscar for writing The Descendants have come together and scripted another beauty.  They have earned themselves loyal fan bases individually as actors as well (Specially Rash as Dean Pelton in Community. That guy is a riot!).

The acting is par excellence. Sam Rockwell who seems to be in his element at playing a care-free kind of man-child does a brilliant job here. Another actor in her element was Toni Collette who portrays the mixed-up mum who seems torn between defending her son and trying to make things work with the arrogant boyfriend who doesn’t always treat them right. She does a nice job of showing a woman who is holding it together and hoping for the best, but by papering over the cracks with tissue. And of course, (without prejudice) Steven Carell does a decent job of being the seemingly heartless guy that the mother is dating.  It was great to see Carrell play the bad guy and it is a nice respite from his usual lovable and funny characters. The rest of the cast does a terrific job all around–from the eyepatch kid to his fast talking alcoholic mother all the way to Maya Rudolph’s love struck life stuck act.

The cast gel very well together and there is a certain amount of chemistry between all the actors which makes it interesting and believable. However, the best scenes of the movie are by and far between Duncan and his new older friend (only by date of birth). Even though his communication with Duncan is mostly full of wisecracks, there is an underlying connection between the two that is not based on need alone.

On the drawback, the only issue I found was that the movie does occasionally get a little too “feel good”, but that’s a small drawback overall I guess.

There are some movies which sound so simple that it’s hard to convey to people just how good they are. The Way, Way Back is a warmhearted and beautifully realized comedy that is as poignant as it is comical.

It is a gem of a movie and my recommendation would be to go ahead and get the DVD. It will be worth your money.


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