Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Way Way Back

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Just when you thought you couldn't go back to a water park because of ravenous piranhas, pee in the pools and my pale, unsightly sans-shirt self, Sam Rockwell comes dancing in to show that they're not so bad.

The Way Way Back – 4 out of 5

Remember sitting in the way, way back seat in your family’s station wagon? I don’t because we never owned one…also it might be a little moronic of me to just assume that the person reading this had a family that owned a station wagon. Maybe your family had some badass sports car or some kind of sand-hopping dune buggy or just a boring old minivan—anyway, for those not in the know, the way, way back seat of a station wagon sucked (or rocked, depending on the person sitting in it). You had to face away and watch the world as it passed by and it serves as a metaphor for the film…and it serves as the title of the film (in case you missed that part).

Our hero begins this summer with no self-confidence and very pale...

Duncan (Liam James) is a shy, awkward teenager (sitting in the way, way back seat) and he’s on his way to the beach for a summer vacation with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), his mother’s demeaning and all-around douchy boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell) and the boyfriend’s snotty and snobbish daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). It looks like it’s going to be another summer of alienation for the boy until he happens upon a nearby water park and meets one of its more colorful employees; Owen (Sam Rockwell). Owen gives Duncan a job and starts to unload his unique, slacker-like wisdom on the boy in order to coax him out of his shell.

"The first step towards not being a awkward shut-in is play a whole lot of Pac-Man."

Going into this film, I thought it was going to have a very notable Little Miss Sunshine vibe going for it (and that’s not a bad thing because I LOVE that movie). The trailer gave off a tone of a bittersweet comedy that is capable of making you both tear up from the heavy emotion and then proceed to laugh your ass off from the witty comedy…and the presence of LMS alumni Steve Carell and Toni Collette didn’t hurt in adding to this vibe either. However, after viewing it, I found my original assumption about the film was very wrong.

Ah, the face made during those uncomfortable and unwanted hugs.  I see that a lot...
on other people.  I'm the one giving the hugs.

You should never take advice from a man in that kind of
hat...unless that man is Sam Rockwell.
I’ll be honest, the trope about the awkward person unsure about themselves or their future is a mainstay with the world of independent films to the point I’m not entirely sure if the indie film circuit ever makes anything different…well, they might change it up by having it about 30-something, college educated white couples who don’t know if they’re ready to start a family but the basic themes are always the same; the world is a weird place, I don’t fit in and I’m followed by a soundtrack that contains nothing but acoustic hipster rock. On paper, The Way Way Back looks like it’s just going to be one of those cliché films but it was so much more because it didn’t feel as smug like most films with this story get. Yes, Duncan is an awkward teenager who doesn’t fit in and there’s a lot of shitty acoustic rock filling up the soundtrack but the film doesn’t try to act deep, it just tries to be fun and perfectly throws in the right amount of drama…and it succeeds in that attempt (and then gets deep without looking like it's trying to be deep).

I thought this was a giant litter box but I'm being told it's a beach.  I don't get out much.

The Dean from Community seems to be doing well for
himself...just look at that 'stache!
Writers/directors/co-stars Nat Faxon and Jim Rash wrote a fantastic film that looks like a hundred other “coming-of-age” stories but presented it in a way that was actually relatable as the characters have the perfect mix of being realistic and slightly over-the-top. Duncan isn’t awkward because the film and side characters tells us he is or acts in a way that has become synonymous with the state of awkwardness, right off the bat the film shows us that Duncan is just a quiet teenager that is going through the same phase a lot of the youthful population go through and his state of being is only reinforced when we see that he is the object of verbal and emotional abuse from his mother’s boyfriend. This aspect really kept me glued to the film as Duncan felt less like how Hollywood THINKS socially awkward teenagers act and actually LOOKED like how awkward teenagers act. This only strengthens the bond you see when Owen becomes Duncan’s buddy and becomes the first real positive influence in his life.

You can smile bigger than that, you co-wrote and co-directed a great movie.

The cast is fantastic in this film and it contains two personal favorites of mine: Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell. Carell plays a part I’ve never seen from him as his character of Trent is just a plain dick. He’s mean to Duncan and is even worse to Duncan’s mother. After years of seeing Carell play the loveable goofball, it was shocking but a pleasant surprise to see Carell do so well with playing such an unlikeable character. The scenes he shares with Liam James and the incredibly talented Toni Collette (and she’s no slouch in this film either) are just fantastic to watch.

He's still less of an asshole than my stepfather was...and that's only because my
stepfather wasn't Steve Carell.

There’s a lot of great talent in the film but, a sad reality is, they sometimes feel wasted as their characters often have little to no impact on the central story. Allison Janney is great as the drunk neighbor friend that accompanies the visiting crew and she has her part to play as she’s the mother of a girl that catches Duncan’s eye (but, of course, he’s shy so no dice). However, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet are in the film as a couple friends of Pam and Trent’s and, while both are very talented individuals, they felt like they did little for Duncan’s journey. Granted, these characters are more in the film for Pam’s journey of realizing who she is really dating but the story doesn’t do much to balance what Duncan’s mother is going through in her own personal life. A majority of the story focuses on her relationship with her son and the few times the film ventures into her relationship with Trent it felt like an afterthought. While a little distracting and feeling like a waste of Corddry and Peet, this isn’t a deal breaker for the film because it all does come to a head and it works for the dramatic unfolding of the story.

Oh and Maya Rudolph is in the movie too...I forgot to mention that.
Also, the water park is called Water's like they're inviting the fat kids in their
t-shirts to pee in the water slides.

The scene stealer, for me, was from Sam Rockwell as Owen. I’m a big fan of Rockwell and, even in his shittiest of films, I will never stop singing his praises because the man is talented and, dammit, he deserved a flippin’ Oscar for Moon. Owen is one of those archetypes that are the fun guys who look like they’re all about goofing off but, deep down, this guy knows his shit and is secretly Yoda with the words of wisdom he spits out in-between playful flirting with any lady that walks by and overall sense of being the ultimate slacker. We’ve seen characters like this in the past but Rockwell played it so well and the way he played off of the quiet magnitude that was the stoic Liam James ended up making the film a buddy comedy as well as a coming of age story.

This water park is missing the prerequisite "woman in a bikini who shouldn't be
wearing a bikini."

The Way Way Back is a strong, funny and emotional movie that actually feels realistic in its presentation. While it has all the makings to be a generic independent, overly moody comedy, the film has that perfect blend of story, comedy and emotion to it. Add in a really strong performance from Sam Rockwell and a great cast making up the rest of the film and you have yourself a great film that entertains on every front.

Our hero ends his journey with some self-respect, a bit more confidence and, more importantly,
he's tan...well, slightly less pale.


  1. Do you remember that scene from Charlie's Angels where Rockwell is dancing to Simon Says while smoking and drinking Coke through a straw?

    It's one of the most beautiful displays of complete and utter douchebaggery ever shot on film.

    1. Oh yeah, I remember that! I love watching Rockwell dance!


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