Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Way Way Back

I’ve seen countless movies over the past year, most involving juvenile humor since they’ve been selected by my two teenage nephews. Nonetheless, I was able to sneak in this beaut by myself and I’m so glad I did.

The Way Way Back written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash features a stellar cast, including Sam Rockwell, Toni Colette, Steve Carell and Allison Janney. In this wonderfully sweet coming of age tale, Duncan (Liam James) is stuck spending his summer with his mom, Pam (Colette) and her obnoxious boyfriend, Trent (Carell) at his vacation home. As if dealing with Trent’s demeaning digs all summer wasn’t bad enough, throw in Trent’s snide daughter, Steph; the slightly crazy and boozy neighbor next door, Betty, as well as her son and beautiful daughter, Susanna. Redemption comes in the form of the Water Wizz and its resident manager, Owen (Rockwell), who takes pity on the poor young chap loitering at the park by his lonesome and offers him a job doing menial tasks around the water park. Over the span of the summer and with Owen’s help, Duncan manages to find friends, find himself and even helps his mother do a little soul searching of her own.

This was such a great film, sweet, funny and even poignant at times, to throw out a few adjectives, which is no big surprise since it comes from the brilliant minds of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who wrote (along with Alexander Payne) and won the Oscar for the screenplay to The Descendants. The film originally premiered in Sundance, and in addition to being its talented writers and directors (this was their directorial debut), the duo also exercised their acting chops in the film as Roddy and Lewis, employees at the Water Wizz.

The film isn’t groundbreaking material, it actually puts me in mind of another summer classic, Meatballs. Rockwell brilliantly fills the Bill Murray role as the immature man-child, who becomes a friend and pseudo-father figure to a lonely boy who just needs to be loved; replace Camp North Star with the Water Wizz; Morty with Lewis, and Roxanne with Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph) and you’ve got a winning formula.

Nonetheless, what made this film great was the acting. Liam James is a revelation as Duncan. His young face conveys such sadness and loneliness at times that you can’t help but root for him. Rockwell brings the same precise skill and talent to his role that he brings to all his films. Colette conveys an abundance of compassion and pathos in her performance as the struggling single mom, so lost and beat down by her past that she’s willing to comprise herself for fear of being alone. I loved the fact that I hated Steve Carell in this movie. For a while, he’s been a bit of a one-trick pony, always playing the sad sack unlucky in love and a little simple minded, but he stretched himself in this role and was willing to make himself unlikable. The real discovery for me though was Allison Janney. I never watched her in The West Wing, and honestly always felt all the praise people heaped on her was overrated but she was so thoroughly immersed in her role, so believable and so darn funny.

I loved The Way Way Back and the whole lot of loveable losers at the Water Wizz. Look for it on DVD (release date October 22, 2013), you’ll be glad you did.