The Way, Way Back is Way, Way Overrated
- Tuesday, July 23, 2013
DVD Release Date: October 22, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: July 5, 2013 limited; July 19 wider.
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, language, some sexual content, and brief drug material)
Run Time: 102 min
Directors: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Cast: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry, Zoe Levin
The Way, Way Back is a summertime coming-of-age dramedy that marks the directorial debut of Academy Award winning writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants). Reportedly, this film was a passion project of theirs that only the cache of an Oscar win could get off the ground. Not only did it launch, this would-be indie darling got a standing ovation at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
With that kind of pedigree, it comes as a big letdown to see how conventional it all is. This isn’t a new voice on the cinematic landscape. It’s the same familiar one we’ve heard for decades, but without the value of any singular perspective (like we got from, say, John Hughes and Cameron Crowe, who made careers out of reinventing the conventional). The only distinguishing characteristic of The Way, Way Back is that it doesn't have one.
To be more specific, it’s the screenplay that lacks distinction, as does the rather rote (even amateurish) directorial effort. The supporting cast makes up for much, even as they also compensate for a teenage lead who’s as bland as the story. The ensemble gives the film whatever charm it's able to conjure (a soundtrack mix of 80s hits and hipster anthems do most of the emotional heavy lifting), but unfortunately they're wading through generic plot beats.
The Way, Way Back is yet another "the summer that changed everything" story of an awkward teenage boy. Duncan (Liam James, 2012) is shy, nerdy, and saddled with angst. He's spending the summer at a beach house with his divorcée mom Pam and her boyfriend Trent (Toni Collette and Steve Carell, reteaming from Little Miss Sunshine). Duncan’s in tow against his will, although what he’d prefer is never clear (beyond the boilerplate whine "Why can’t I spend the summer with dad?"). He's so thinly drawn that the only thing he seems to enjoy is sulking.
The problem here is that we’re expected to sympathize with and even root for Duncan, not due to any specific understanding of who he is but simply because he's put-upon by everyone around him. While that does evoke situational sympathy, after awhile you don't want to be around this sad-sack any more than anyone else does. At some point he has to make an effort, too, doesn't he? In Movie World, apparently not, especially when two encouraging archetypes cross his path to serve no other purpose than to instantly befriend Duncan and help him find himself.
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