The Way, Way Back-attachment0

The Way, Way Back

Movie Information

The Story: A lonely, awkward 14-year-old is forced to spend the summer at the beach with his mother and her new mean-spirited boyfriend. The Lowdown: It takes a while to find its footing, but this warmly nostalgic coming-of-age comedy wins out with its array of unusually well-crafted characters.
Score:

Genre: Comedy Drama
Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Starring: Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph
Rated: PG-13

Actors-turned-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants) turn directors as well with The Way, Way Back, a pleasantly shambling slice of summer nostalgia tied to a coming-of-age story. No, it isn’t a great movie, and a lot of its charm rests squarely on the presence of Sam Rockwell in the cast. (Indeed, Messrs. Faxon and Rash ought to be sending Rockwell flowers and chocolates — the big box — so essential is he to making their movie work.) All in all, The Way, Way Back (its title referring to both nostalgia and those rear-facing seats that used to be in the backs of station wagons) offers little that’s terribly new. It certainly hasn’t much relation to Little Miss Sunshine (2006) or Juno (2007), despite the poster claiming it’s “from the studio that brought you” those films (not that any single studio made all three). But the film does what it does very well indeed, and provides a much-needed respite from overbearingly big summer movies. Think of it as a soothing breeze in the midst of a lot of blustering gales.

The film centers on 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James, 2012) who finds himself sentenced to spending the summer at the beach with his self-absorbed, desperate mother, Pam (Toni Collette), and her irredeemable swine of a boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell playing against type). He’s miserable, which is understandable, but that’s where the movie stumbles at first. The problem is that Duncan acts so sullen and miserable that it takes a while to sympathize. The presence of Allison Janney as a boozy, loudmouthed neighbor helps, but it’s not until the movie gets to Duncan’s discovery of the local theme park, Water Wizz, that the film springs to life. The park is lorded over by Owen (Rockwell), a good-natured, fast-talking slacker who takes a liking to the awkward Duncan and even gives him a job. Water Wizz itself is a slightly rundown little Neverland populated by likable folks without much ambition. Oh, sure, one of them, Lewis (played by co-director Rash), is intent on getting on with his life — but, for years, he’s been saying that. And Owen’s quasi-girlfriend Caitlin (Maya Rudolph) at least has a vague sense of responsibility.

Not a great deal happens that is likely to surprise you, and the whole finding-yourself-while-working-at-an-amusement-park idea is likely to draw comparisons to Adventureland (2009). But in some cases — and this is one of them — well-crafted familiarity and empathetically drawn characters ace originality. What makes The Way, Way Back work — besides its warmly depicted nostalgia for what summer should feel like — is that nearly every character is more complex than you’d expect.
Duncan’s mother, for instance, despite her self-involvement, is trying to shield her son from a painful truth. Almost no one is quite what they seem. Even Owen is much more aware of his own shortcomings — and his feelings for Caitlin — than he lets on. This kind of unexpected attention to character imbues the film with a depth that makes its amusing charms more than just another coming-of-age movie. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material.

Playing at Carolina Cinemas

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

24 thoughts on “The Way, Way Back

  1. Xanadon't

    No, it isn’t a great movie, and a lot of its charm rests squarely on the presence of Sam Rockwell in the cast.

    Sounds then like I’ll enjoy the movie pretty much exactly as much as the trailer would suggest. Which means I’d be getting a bargain at matinee price or that I wouldn’t feel bad about spending a rainy Monday night in the film’s company.

    Had I only watched Adventureland once, this movie’s surface similarities would probably turn me off from it a bit. But I enjoyed Adventureland a whole heck of a lot more the second time around and don’t mind the idea of seeing something like it again.

  2. Me

    I really liked the first 3/4 of Adverntureland, otherwise i was going to dismiss this film as looking to mooshy from the trailer.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Had I only watched Adventureland once, this movie’s surface similarities would probably turn me off from it a bit. But I enjoyed Adventureland a whole heck of a lot more the second time around and don’t mind the idea of seeing something like it again.

    I wouldn’t overstress the similarity. I only saw Advetureland once — and only because Justin was keen on it (we ran it after hours at the Carmike back when we did such things). I wasn’t wild about it, but the leads didn’t help that.

  4. Steven

    [b]Im hearing this isn’t even half the film The Spectacular Now is.[/b]

    You’re overhyping [i]The Spectacular Now[/i] to some unimaginable degree. It’s not [i]that[/i] good.

  5. Ken Hanke

    He also hasn’t seen either film. (And I was under the impression he hadn’t planned on seeing this one.)

  6. Steven

    I haven’t seen [i]The Way, Way Back[/i], so I can’t really comment. [i]The Spectacular Now[/i] is akin to [i]Say Anything[/i]…, so.. take that for what you will. I liked it well enough. A few teenage tropes to be found, but most of it is elevated by the performances (notably Woodley.) I’m not sure why you’re so excited to see it, to be honest. Judging from your posts around here, it doesn’t seem like the kind of film that you’d go nuts for.

  7. Me

    I liked his other film Smashed, i got to admit the trailer didn’t really do that much for me but i was looking forward to checking it out.

  8. Big Al

    This sold out the 6:15pm show at the Carolina, and the 6:45 crowd applauded at the end. Not unheard of but noteworthy.

    The previews did not let on the significance of Amanda Peet’s character. I would like to see more of her and in bigger roles.

  9. Edwin Arnaudin

    The previews did not let on the significance of Amanda Peet’s character. I would like to see more of her and in bigger roles.

    Other than Whipped, I’m not sure that she’s had a true leading role. Even in supporting parts, I don’t feel like she’s given much opportunity to shine, though something like Igby Goes Down allows her to show some range.

  10. Ken Hanke

    She’s been around an awfully long time — sometimes in leads in movies you’d never go see without a damn good reason (A Lot Like Love, for example). If it hasn’t happened by now, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Whatever that indefinable thing is that pushes people over the line into stardom, she seems to lack it.

  11. DrSerizawa

    Maybe “Saving Silverman” signaled her significance.

    I like Peet, but she’s no compelling reason to go see a movie.

  12. Douglas Ewen

    We really enjoyed this movie. Sam Rockwell is one of our favorite actors and we try to see everything he does!

  13. Me

    The acting by the kids at the park was bad and very cliched. I never felt for the lead character he was almost too sad sacked, and Sam Rockwell who i normally love was overbearing it was just a constant barrage of him trying to be funny and cute. He did calm it down however towards the end.

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