Kyle J. Steenblik

The Way Way Back [Review]

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banner-the-way-way-back-banner-the-way-way-back-banner_1On a scale of one to ten, how do you measure up?

If you were a movie, where would you be?  Just pick a number, one to ten.  This one is a ten, are you a ten?  Neither am I, don’t feel too bad, the world is full of us.  If it wasn’t, movies like this wouldn’t work, and worse, they wouldn’t be made.

There is something profound about the click and flicker of a 35 mm projection, the warmth of the projector and the steady heartbeat of the film as it passes the lenses.  It’s more than an audible and visual reminder of the foundations of modern cinema, it is classic.  Just like The Way Way Back.  One could easily call this movie timeless; although that may not be entirely accurate, it feels timeless.  This poignant coming of age story is also a racking family drama, and an expertly executed comedy.  Co-written and directed by Academy Award winning (screenplay, The Descendants) Nat Faxon, a veteran comedic actor and comedian, and Jim Rash, who is also a veteran comedic actor.  This team presents a film that could easily pass as the work of a long seasoned director rather than complete veterans to the director’s role, and the writing is such that I will gladly line up for anything these two write in the future.

I don’t want to give too much away, because the joy and charm of this film is watching the characters expose themselves and develop, so I will keep this synopsis light.  It all starts with 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) his mom, Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) heading to Trent’s beach house for the summer.  Trent encourages Duncan to get out of his super awkward and angsty 14-year-old shell, in the douchiest ways possible.  At the beach house they meet perpetually intoxicated Betty (Allison Janney), her daughter Susanna (Anna Sophia Robb), and her son Peter (River Alexander), along with the callow Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet).  Duncan, feeling the weight of his years, and the overwhelming perplexity of the new adult relationships around him, escapes the house in search of relief.  Salvation is found in the waggish Owen (Sam Rockwell), manager of the Water Wizz water park, and his friends Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph), Roddy (Nat Faxon), and Lewis (Jim Rash).  Duncan is quickly befriended and employed at the water park, where he finds himself, and his own path to follow.  That is, that’s all the plot you are getting from me, go spoil the movie for yourself on someone else’s dime.

The cast in this film is fantastic.  Particularly Sam Rockwell, His record of masterful comedic performances is on full display here; along with his ability to underscore his performance with an earnestness giving his characters extraordinary depth, kudos also go to the directors that told him to do that.  Liam James pulls off the super awkward young teen flawlessly, so much so that it’s impossible not to feel for Duncan.  It appears the young actor is astutely learning from the skilled veterans surrounding him in on screen.  It would be foolish for any young actor not to absorb as much knowledge as possible from the likes of Sam Rockwell and Toni Collette (whose performance was also that of an extraordinarily skilled veteran).

This move is probably not for everyone, although it should be.  It’s as heartwarming as it is funny, and as gut wrenching, as it is triumphant.  It will be the movie everyone tells you to watch, but you probably won’t, and when you do, you will wonder why waited.  Independent films like this are everything that is right with movies.  Go enjoy The Way Way Back, allow yourself a 102-minute reminder that film is a living thing, and that life is a hilariously awkward thing that sometimes goes right.  10 out of 10.

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