Review: The Way Way Back

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Directors: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Liam James, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet
Rating: 4 out of 5 water slides for this semi-predictable but highly enjoyable coming-of-age story. With laugh out loud one-liners from the show stealing Rockwell to offset the pleasant but admittedly slow (or what I consider to be typical indie-flick) pace, and amazing performances all around to bring Faxon and Rash’s heartfelt script to life, this film satisfies and succeeds in all the ways you want it.

First of all, Liam James is perfect in all his painfully shy awkward glory as 14 year old Duncan. When his mom’s boyfriend, played so well by Steve Carell that you can’t help but love to hate him from the very beginning, takes them all as a would-be family to his summer house, Duncan’s shyness and awkwardness just get worse. We are aligned with Duncan from the opening moments, and until Rockwell’s Owen appears on screen, the film is hinged upon really feeling how Duncan feels– uncomfortable and out of place. This isn’t a bad thing by any means; the film needs this framework for us to sympathize (and even empathize) with Duncan as we gradually watch him grow and mature. And this growth and maturation become all the more triumphant and wonderful to witness because of this build-up we’re given earlier on.

Speaking of earlier on, I’m getting ahead of myself, still wrapped up in the celebratory feeling the film ends up leaving us with. In order to get there though we need the outstanding and hilarious Sam Rockwell, as I mentioned, who is the beacon of all that is light and wonderful about Duncan’s life, and likewise, this film. The scenes that take place at Water Wizz are full of humor, wit, 80’s references, and overall joy. I think we start to love Owen and this place just as much as Duncan does, and again, his transformation through working there and learning from Owen is truly palpable. And as he becomes more adult than the adults around him, those adults around him become even more childish in their petty spring break shenanigans. The children in the film are really the most genuine and wise characters, but Toni Collette as Duncan’s conflicted divorced mother is brilliant as usual, and the movie eventually evolves into a true ensemble piece with great acting and complex characters all around, even when they’re not always necessarily the most likable.

This movie, again, was also fairly formulaic as far as these kinds of comedies go, but it was exceptionally warm and wonderfully made in every respect. The tone and texture of every shot is as warm and summery as the setting, but the dialogue is what really stands out of course; filled with simplicity and humanity. The film really matures in itself as well, becoming a truly smart and emotionally affecting character (and likewise, performance) driven story full of feel-good moments especially from the middle to the end.

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