Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: "The Way, Way Back"

Summer always offers its share of coming-of-age stories. This year we have already had Mud and The Kings of Summer. And here we have a third film to add to the already overcrowded genre. The Way, Way Back lures viewers by advertising that it is "from the studio that brought you Little Miss Sunshine and Juno." These are two of the most success comedies of the past ten years, each nominated for its share of Academy Awards. The Way, Way Back is not on the same level, but it was much more delightful an experience than I had expected after being blasted with trailers at the cinema. With a supporting cast that includes Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph, The Way, Way Back offers some great secondary story lines. The real treasure of the film is Liam James, starring as a fourteen year old awkward teenager. It turns out he is the same kid who plays Sarah Linden's son Jack on AMC's The Killing! The way he matured as a character and an actor throughout the film was astounding. The film is the directorial debut of screenwriting team Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, comedy character actors we recognize from the big and small screen. The pair also won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2011 for The Descendants. I can only hope that these two continue to evolve together as screenwriters and directors. The Way, Way Back is a real treat despite being overly predictable, though its predictability is balanced by an honest screenplay and the sincerity of its actors.

Duncan (James) is an awkward fourteen year old still trying to cope with his parents' divorce. He is forced to go spend the summer at his mom's boyfriend's beach house in Cape Cod. His mom Pam (Collette) tries to understand his frustration but she does not quite understand the depth of Duncan's dislike of Trent (Carell). Trent is the asshole stepfather that no one wants. Duncan's awkwardness is amplified when he meets Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), the daughter of Trent's neighbour Betty (Janney). Eventually Pam succumbs to the party atmosphere of the beach house and Duncan is left depressed and alone. Finding a pink bike in the garage, he sets off on an adventure and discovers a water park on the other side of town. He strikes up a friendship with the park's owner Owen (Rockwell), a timely relationship that forces Duncan to acknowledge who he is.

The Way, Way Back is different from the coming-of-age stories that we have seen so far in 2013. Duncan is a loner. He is left to fend for himself. It speaks louder to be because I can understand his frustration. He has no masculine voice in his life to guide him through life's changes. Liam James comes into his own in this film. Even on The Killing he fades into the background all too willingly. But in The Way, Way Back he is more than up to the challenge. Steve Carell, who gave his best performance for me in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), does not pander for the camera as he all too often does. He is great at being an asshole. But why would someone as genuine as Toni Collette fall for his act? I think that is the weakest link in the film. Trent's lack of appeal is clear from the get-go and I wished that the film had allowed us to understand Pam's attraction to him. The Way, Way Back succeeds because it is genuine. There is a familiarity to the film in the way we can all relate. It could have gone further and forgone the one-laugh gags, but it is a better-than-average debut from a pair of up-and-coming screenwriters-turned-directors.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

No comments:

Post a Comment