Directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, Liam James, Annasophia Robb
During the summer, it’s not easy to find an indie film with a small budget at your local multiplex. With movies like The Wolverine and Elysium populating multiple screens every day, the little indie that could is few and far between. The ones that manage to break through during the tentpole season usually have something special to warrant a decently wide release and with The Way, Way Back, that something special is its performances.
The Way, Way Back isn’t exactly a new take on the rite of passage film; in fact, it’s cut from the same cloth as a lot of them. The story told is that of 14-year old Duncan, who is forced to spend the summer at the beach house owned by his mother’s boyfriend, Trent. Desperate to keep away from Trent and his condescending nature, Duncan spends most of the summer on a pink bike he finds and winds up working at the local water park. Shades of Meatballs, Little Miss Sunshine, and Adventureland are evident and it’s hard to keep from making the comparisons.
The conflict between Duncan and Trent is felt immediately in the first scene as Trent drives down the highway to the beach house. Trent asks Duncan what he would rate himself (on a scale of 1 to 10) and unsatisfied with Duncan’s answer of a 6, Trent then gives Duncan his reasoning on why he would classify him as a 3. Not exactly the confidence-boosting pep talk a sympathetic character would give, but it’s hard not to admit that Trent has a point: Duncan is overly shy, almost to the point of a social disorder. He has trouble speaking to anyone and seems to be in a perpetual staring contest with his shoelaces. As misguided as Trent’s blunt observation is, he sees it as a point of encouragement for young Duncan to come out of his shell.
Steve Carell plays Trent but you’d be hard-pressed to find Trent as likable as Carrell. He has more in common with Greg Kinnear’s character in Little Miss Sunshine and it is a fantastic performance. Trent almost plays the substitute father role like it’s a chore; almost like taking out the trash. For the good of the relationship with Duncan’s mom (played by Toni Collette, in a similar role that she had in LMS), Trent will try his hardest to tolerate the kid.
Liam James plays Young Duncan whose biggest credit to date is the disaster flick 2012. It’s hard for me to be overly critical for someone born in 1996 (Damn, I’m old) but his performance was merely adequate. If Perks of Being a Wallflower didn’t sport some incredible performances by a young cast, I may have overlooked it, but Logan Lerman plays a similar archetype in last year’s film and he does it so much better.
The true star of the film is Sam Rockwell as Owen. I’ve been a fan of Rockwell’s ever since I saw him in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and truthfully, he was the only reason I had this film in my crosshairs. I wouldn’t call this a star-making turn (watch Confessions…, Moon, Matchstick Men, Galaxy Quest, The Green Mile, Iron Man 2) but it’s definitely one that can get some people to take notice. It’s a role where he gets to play the quick-witted, good time-having manager of the water park and he truly looks like he was having fun in the role. The role is similar to the one Bill Murray played in Meatballs and Rockwell gets to show that he is not only a good dramatic actor, but also very adept at comedy.
They say that there are two guarantees in life: death and taxes. If I could add a third to that list, it would be Allison Janney stealing every scene she’s in. Janney plays the outspoken, fun-loving neighbor who is never seen without a drink in her hand. Janney makes every movie she’s in better and this film is no different. Honestly, every movie should just have either Christopher Walken or Allison Janney. Make it happen Hollywood.
The scenes at the water park are the centerpieces of the film, as it makes it look like the most fun place to work ever. This is partly due to the solid supporting cast that makes up the staff. Headed by Maya Rudolph, writer/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash round out the crew that takes Duncan under their wing and provides him with the opportunity to grow into a more confident person.
I can’t really say too many things negatively about this movie; it’s pretty charming and even if you don’t completely fall in love with it, it’s not a movie I can imagine many people will come away hating. Personally, I wish they made Trent a little more likable. Rather than having him come off as sleazy as he does, I thought it would speak more to the relationship if it was more of a difference of opinion than a relationship built on contempt.
Overall, I think The Way, Way Back was a very nice movie propped up by some fine acting by the cast. I don’t expect this movie to blow up the way similarly themed films have done so in the past, but I’ll be there rooting for it if it manages to gain some steam.