The Way, Way Back ReviewJuly 22, 2013
Not only is The Way, Way Back a passionately-crafted comedy (aside from the cinematography), it has much to offer from a human angle as well.
When it comes to independently-produced comedic dramas, what is generally the go-to storyline for such a film? You guessed it, the coming-of-age tale. That is certainly the course Academy Award-winning screenwriters Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (for The Descendants, in which they share the win with Alexander Payne) took for their directorial debut, The Way, Way Back. However, with a terrific cast and their great writing, could this be a good change in pace for the coming-of-age film?
It is finally summertime, but sadly 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) is in a horrible position in life – he is being forced to spend the whole entire summer with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her over-the-top boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and stuck-up daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) at Trent’s beach house. Amidst all of the family awkwardness, Duncan seeks to get away from it all and simply find a place where he can be happy. At one point, Duncan finds the Water Wizz water park nearby, and soon the eccentric, laid-back owner Owen (Sam Rockwell) offers him a job at the park. Duncan accepts, seeming to have finally found the place where he can be truly content.
Yes, The Way, Way Back is certainly familiar material, but it succeeds at being a well-written, engaging human drama while providing consistent laughs throughout. What I will say is that is treads ground previously covered by many other coming-of-age tales, so don’t expect many new ideas here since it is definitely familiar in that regard. Even so, The Way, Way Back ultimately works because of its characters and a sharply-written screenplay. Despite some very exaggerated moments, none of the characters feel like caricatures; each and every person in this story feels like a three-dimensional human being. This is certainly a credit to Jim Rash and Nat Faxon for balancing character development quite nicely with the comedy.
Speaking of which, The Way, Way Back has quite a bit of hilarious dialogue that is all balanced well with some slapstick and other sorts of gags. Thankfully, though, most of these jokes feel natural due to the characters and the excellent comedic timing of the cast. I was also surprised that Duncan’s desire to essentially find his personal sanctuary manages to relate to all of the drama occurring in the picture, in which every character seems to be struggling to be truly happy. As a result, that thematic thread serves to add depth to what was already a consistently entertaining comedic drama.
Another key reason why The Way, Way Back stands out among its competition is because of the acting talent involved. Liam James is silent for a good amount of the runtime, but he still does enough to show that his character is a damaged, shy soul that simply wants to escape. In fact, every single actor here does well enough to accentuate their characters’ inner struggles and personalities, especially Steve Carell. For a comedian who typically plays nice, timid men, this role certainly seems like it was out of his comfort zone. Surprisingly though, he does a fine job being absolutely despicable in the role without taking things too far, making for one of the film’s more memorable performances. However, the one who truly makes The Way, Way Back is undeniably Sam Rockwell. That man is a comedic beast. He is hysterical in this film – to put it in perspective, I felt that the film lost some steam whenever he was not on screen. Essentially, his performance alone is worth the price of admission, and serves to elevate what was already a good film.
I suppose a reason why The Way, Way Back feels more familiar than it should is because of its look. While I can forgive Jim Rash and Nat Faxon for this since this is their directorial debut, there is barely any art to this film at all. If not for the excellent script and performances, I wouldn’t have been able to discern this film from an Adam Sandler production. I can’t deny that the film has a nice look to it, I just wish that there was more artistry to this film, for it would have put it on another level. On the other hand, though, the music helped to inject some emotion into this picture that the plainly-filmed imagery simply could not do.
If you are looking for some laughs this summer but wish to avoid the lazy, studio-driven comedies such as R.I.P.D. and Grown Ups 2, this film is for you. Not only is The Way, Way Back a passionately-crafted comedy (aside from the cinematography), it has much to offer from a human angle as well. Sure, it may not be the most groundbreaking coming-of-age tale either, but at least this film offers plenty of laughs, great performances and a story that is appealing on many human levels. Any comedy that can make you laugh and want to cry later on is certainly one that should be noticed.