Tuesday, July 16

REVIEW: The Way, Way Back

Directed by Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
2013 Comedy Drama
1 hour 43 minutes
From Fox Searchlight

Liam James
Toni Collette
Steve Carell
Sam Rockwell
Allison Janney
Anna Sophia Robb
Rob Corddry
Amanda Peet
Maya Rudolph

The two stars of the movie are young Liam James and Sam Rockwell.  The one who is older is mentoring the one who is younger but both are working out issues of growing up.

Essentially this is a coming-of-age story about 14-year old Duncan reluctantly joining his mother, her tough-as-nails boyfriend and his snobby daughter on a family holiday to those wonderful beaches that dot the Massachusetts coastline.  The locale is one of the things that drew me to this film but it held no promise for Duncan.  He is morose due to wanting to be with his divorced father, not wanting to be with his mother's obnoxious boyfriend and in general, just being a 14-year old.

Into the kid's glum existence comes a manager of a local water park where Duncan takes a job and gets a life lesson or two from the wacky manager.  From there we move through some of life's hard lessons mostly involving goofball adults and by film's end, as is so often the case in these types of films, it all works out as the station wagon is packed up for the trip home.

The two directors, Faxon and Rash, also co-wrote the piece.  While we're at it, they also not only wrote George Clooney's The Descendants, but won a well-deserved Oscar for their efforts.  This is not to be confused with or included in the same high-falutin' group as The Descendants.

Don't get me wrong.  This is a nice little film.  Anyone venturing out to see a nice little film will undoubtedly like it.  And let it be said I love coming-of-age stories.  One can usually find snatches of truth here and there in such stories that will take one all the way back to those same ages.  I certainly could understand not wanting to be included on family vacations and being treated like a child one moment and an adult another.  And to watch the pink hue come over my mother as she saturated herself with the love of a new putz of a boyfriend, well, if I had been on those Massachusetts beaches, I would have whistled for Jaws.  Let confusion reign. 

The acting was uniformly quite good, perhaps the best thing about the film.  James is almost never off the screen and his best scenes are with Rockwell.  I do not fault the acting of either actor but I did grow weary of both their characters and I fault the writing.  Perhaps the Duncan character was too close to me at that same age but now as an adult, I wanted to call in Cher and have her slap him and tell him to snap out of it.  I was quite clear on the kid's moodiness in the first couple of scenes but it went on too long.

Rockwell's character needed an intervention or at least a valium.  Cher, slap him while you're at it.  Ok most of the light-heartedness comes from this character and I thank the writers for that but it was annoyingly over-the-top for me.

An interesting bit of casting is Steve Carell, mainly because he doesn't provide a smidgen of comedy.  His character is not very nice.  This is probably the darkest character the actor has inhabited and I thought he pulled it off well.

His costar from Little Miss Sunshine, Toni Collette, was delightful as the mom who is very concerned about her son but more caught up in focusing on the man of the moment.  Likewise, I enjoyed Allison Janney in a showy part as the neighbor oh-so-ready to party and laugh.

Other than that bit of monotony with the two lead characters, my other complaint is the film not only really offered nothing new on the coming-of-age saga, but it stood on some wobbly legs with a lack of punch.  The sum of its parts was fine but there seemed to be no center, maybe even no real heart.  Its resolutions rather limped along.

It's tough to top The Descendants.

Randy and Cary

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