Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Movie review: The Way Way Back spins a touching but funny yarn
It's hard to tell which is better, the writing or the acting.
Many o’ films have tried, and some have failed, to capture the true essence of the American summer. From Bruce Brown’s 1966 classic The Endless Summer to a more recent release like last year’s Moonrise Kingdom, it’s common territory in the realm of cinema.
The Way Way Back, the new project from Oscar-winning writing duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, takes place in a sleepy Massachusetts town where summer seems to be oozing from its shores.
The film follows Duncan, a timid teenager, tumbling through the angst of adolescence and the fact that his summer vacation must be spent with his stepfather Trent in his lakeside cabin. Trent, played by Steve Carrell, immediately gives the audience reasons to dislike him as the film first scene has him asking Duncan to rank himself between one and 10.
“I don’t know, a six?” says Duncan.
“I think you’re a three,” Trent fires back.
Duncan’s angst starts to make sense.
In fact, almost every adult figure in The Way Way Back is dealing with some sort of problem that is often times projected onto their younger counterparts. From a failed marriage to a unrealized potential, the talent-heavy cast that includes names like Allison Janey, Maya Rudolph, Sam Rockwell, and Toni Collete, all see some sort of character transformation during the film’s brief 103-minute run time.
It is in this detail, the engrossing story of characters supporting and main, that Faxon and Rash really shine. Considering the two’s history, including the Oscar winning The Descendants, it’s no surprise that the story is well paced and structured. It’s the film’s variety of storylines that is truly impressive.
Of course, none of these stories would have carried such resonance if it weren’t for the actors portraying them. Janey is certainly a standout, as her the gossip-queen Betty is both comedic and pressing. Faxon and Rash probably wrote her hoping audiences wouldn’t like her, but Janey’s charm and wit is captivating.
Liam James’ Duncan is also worthy of praise. The soft-spoken Canadian was perfectly cast for the film’s main role, and it is through his expressions that we see the story keep its pace. James knew how important his every move would be on film, and that knowledge shows.
With quintessential summertime storylines that include waterslides and a teen summer fling, there’s a certain lightness to The Way Way Back that manages to break through its characters' serious storylines. Yes, Rash and Faxon wanted to tell a complete, compelling story, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t have fun doing it.
The Way Way Back is currently in theaters.
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