Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Rated: PG-13

Stars: Liam James,  Steve Carell,  Sam Rockwell,  Toni Collette,  Maya Rudolph,  Annasophia Robb,  Allison Janney,  Amanda Peet

Director: Nat Faxon,  Jim Rash 

Genre: Comedy/ Drama  

When I was fourteen, I avoided speaking  to adults--they were just too uncool. In my case, that wasn't just some warped teenage perception. Adults really weren't very cool back then. In The Way, Way Back, fourteen year-old Duncan (Liam James) is a similarly withdrawn kid, surrounded by some modern day adult lamesters.  Until he arrives at the beach house where his divorced mom (Toni Collette) and her condescending ass of a boyfriend, Trent, (Steve Carell) and his teenage daughter will be spending at least part of the summer, trying the blended family experiment on for size. 

At the beach house, Duncan is introduced to a more colorful ilk of of freaky folk. Allison Janney, as Betty, is a scene stealer as one of the funniest female drunks in recent memory. Then there is Owen, (Sam Rockwell) manager of the  Water Wizz amusement park, where Duncan is drawn when he finds an old bike in the garage and cuts out on the sappy grown ups. He gets hired on at the park, and Owen--an overgrown adolescent stuck in class clown mode--is the ideal mentor to help Duncan, in the shadow of that giant water slide, to emerge from his shell. 

The Way, Way Back is a coming of age tale with a familiar plot,  though it doesn't completely span that outhouse to penthouse emotional arc. The ending they opted for is a more thoughtful one that may leave some viewers feeling deflated, but reflecting on it, this is a movie about incremental rather than sweeping change.   

Steve Carell plays against type in yet another role. He may be dissatisfied with just being a comic genius,  feeling that he's been typecast, maybe? This turn has a bit more depth than the totally deadpan psychiatrist he played in Hope Springs, (a  waste of his talents, in my opinion) but if he really wants to be known as  a serious actor, he needs to take on roles that are way more challenging than this.

Maya Rudolph conveys a sweet vulnerability as Owen's main squeeze at the water park. She strikes me as a surprising choice, but their chemistry works. 

Toni Collette, as Duncan's mom, is a woman who lacks the necessary self-esteem to dump the asinine Trent, even in the face of his infidelity. 

Funny, endearing, poignant. The Way Way Back is all of that. At the end, I felt like I had just spent the summer with some truly memorable characters. And like Duncan, I kinda hated to leave. 

 Grade:  B  +


The way Tim and I work this joint reviewing is simple. He writes his review first, sends it to me via email, and I then add my two cents. (Or three? Or four?) I always wait nervously, fearing he will make the exact same comment I was planning to make. In effect, stealing my insightful thunder. Luckily for me, it hasn't happened. Until now. And we aren't exactly on the same page here.

We both agree that Steve Carell's character in THE WAY, WAY BACK is a departure from previous roles. Unlike Tim, I was impressed with his performance as an A-1 a-hole. Most comic actors—from Charlie Chaplin to Eddie Murphy—have a likablity factor that makes playing villains an uphill battle. Kudos to Mr. Carell for carrying it off! I did have a bit of a problem with Sam Rockwell's character going from perpetual teenager to romantic lead. (Okay, that's stretching it a bit.) And I also though the screen writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash could have come up with a snappier title than THE WAY, WAY BACK. ("Endless Summer, Pt. 2"? "Hell in the Hamptons"? Even "Water Wizz" would have worked better in my view.)

I've given the last two films an "A." So I really can't do it a third time although I'm tempted to. If I'm being totally honest, it's not so much because the movie deserves it. It's just that I am filled with gratitude that this movie isn't yet another comic book rip-off for the mindless minions of kids on vacation. I did exit the theater feeling a bit more sympathy for those teenagers steeped in gawkiness rather than gangdom.