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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Movie Review - The Way Way Back

The Way Way Back (2013)
Starring Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, AnnaSophia Robb, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash
Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Fourteen year-old Duncan (Liam James) isn't too happy to be spending his summer at the New York state beach house of his mom's boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell).  First off, Trent's a bit of a dick who says and does whatever he can to try and motivate the sullen and mopey Duncan to better himself.  Second, Duncan would rather just spend time with his dad than with his mom Pam (Toni Collette).  Nevertheless, his summer plans are set and he's forced to pal around with Trent's buddies Kip and Joan (Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet) and Trent's next door neighbor Betty (Allison Janney), all of whom look to alcohol and pot as a means to relive their youth on a seemingly daily basis.  Betty, however, has a daughter named Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) who just so happens to be Duncan's age, but the shy Duncan can't seem to fathom why any girl would care to communicate with him.

So, with his summer home life a wreck, Duncan bikes around the beach town and comes across the Water Wizz water park which he sneaks into one day before being caught by the park's owner Owen (Sam Rockwell).  Owen recognizes that Duncan seems to be a bit down on his luck and offers him a job at the water park which ends up being a life-changing, personality-enhancing experience for the teen.

The Way Way Back is a movie that, in retrospect, seems a little unrealistic in terms of its characters.  Everyone's a little too quirky or a little too humorous to be rooted in reality.  However, writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (in their directing debuts) balance the oddness of comedic characters like Owen and Betty with the genuineness of Duncan, Trent, and Pam, creating a film that had me laughing when I was supposed to be laughing and feeling sympathy when I was supposed to be feeling sympathy.  That may seem like it should be a given, but weighing both sides of that coin isn't always an  easy task for directors -- especially first-timers.

Admittedly, the directors get better performances from their actors that fall onto the comedic side of the tale, especially a scene-stealing one from Allison Janney who had me laughing at (I think) every single line she delivered as Betty, the kooky neighbor who rarely is seen without a drink in her hand.  Sam Rockwell is also slick, smooth, and sarcastically dry humored as Owen, a character who ends up bridging both the comedic and dramatic sides of the story quite well.  This isn't to say that Liam James, Steve Carell, and Toni Collette disappoint in any way, but the film's funnier moments worked a bit better than its dramatic ones.

Overall, The Way Way Back isn't revolutionary or particularly inventive, but it's a rather sweet, funny coming-of-age tale that's enjoyable for the whole family to watch together.

The RyMickey Rating:  B


  1. Not a mention of AnnaSophia Robb, you son of a gun.

    But Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph were the best part of this movie, definitely. The relationship felt natural.

  2. No AnnaSophia Robb mention. She was good, but her role was a tiny bit underwritten...not necessarily in a bad way. I'm glad they didn't make the movie all about the two teens' relationship, so that's a definite plus. It just didn't really allow for her to have a moment.

    And I love Maya Rudolph -- here, I didn't love her as much as I usually do. I'm not sure I agree about the "naturalness" of her relationship with Rockwell. I can see where you're coming from with that, but I'm not sure I felt that the way you did.