Review: “The Way, Way Back”

Review: “The Way, Way Back”

AnnaSophia Robb and Liam James are having fun in the sun at the water park in "The Way, Way Back." Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

Review: “The Way, Way Back”
July 05
13:38 2013

Preston Barta / Film Critic

Rating: 4.5/5

Every so often you’ll run across a film during the summer that both captures your heart and makes you remember just why you love going to the movies. In 2011, Woody Allen took us back to the roaring 20s to meet the great artists of the lost generation in “Midnight in Paris.” In 2012, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” swept viewers away with its vibrant sense of life and imagination. Both films soared to grand heights and went on to land Best Picture nominations at the Academy Awards.

Another flick that is sure to join these two features in the success gallery is “The Way, Way Back,” a heartwarming and staggering film that will bring back memories of your youth that you thought were erased and will have you feeling like a kid again.

This coming-of-age tale puts the audience in the shoes of Duncan (Liam James,) a quiet and awkward 14-year-old who is forced to spend his summer at his mother’s boyfriend’s beach house. Unable to fit in, Duncan is certain to have long and miserable summer, but that all changes when he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell,) a carefree manager of a water park, who helps bring Duncan out of his shell.

Nat Faxon and Jim Nash, the Academy Award-winning screenwriters who adapted 2011’s magnum opus “The Descendants,” step into the director’s chair together and craft a fine script rooted with relatable characters and enriched with creative dialogue and commentary. These filmmakers have a firm knowledge and understanding of the plight and emotions that surface in the self-building years of adolescence. Faxon and Nash are a clever duo to keep your eyes on, as they are destined to pen new and exciting features in the future.

Writer-director Nat Faxon, Sam Rockwell and Liam James are water park employees in "The Way, Way Back." Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

“The Way, Way Back” brings together a talented cast of actors, including Toni Collette and Steve Carell of 2006’s spellbinding “Little Miss Sunshine.” Collette gives a marvelous performance as Duncan’s mother who is torn between defending her son and trying to make things work with her conceited boyfriend, portrayed by Carell. While it is hard to fathom Carell playing such a mean-spirited character— when he has such a repertoire of loveable roles— he does a fine job. But following Allison Janney (“Juno,” 2007) as the carousing neighbor, it is Rockwell (“Moon,” 2009) that is the rock star of this show. His performance as the guiding force of reason should have filmgoers laughing out of the seats.

While summer is generally the time of superhero adventures, fast cars and explosions, it is refreshing to feast your eyes on a film that doesn’t offer big action scenes or special effects— just superior writing with skilled actors and filmmakers who are capable of bringing a realistic story to life. So put “The Way, Way Back” on the top of your list of movies to see over this holiday weekend. It’s the best movie that summer has to offer.

“The Way, Way Back” is playing in limited release today.


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