Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Way, Way Back (2013)

11 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, there are four films that come to mind when I think of movies that really capture the essence of summertime–“The Sandlot,” “The Flamingo Kid,” “Call Me By Your Name,” and…”The Way, Way Back.”

Everyone has that Summer That Changed Everything–it’s that precious coming-of-age experience that you never forget. For super-awkward teenaged Duncan (Liam James, to whom I’m always going to refer as Young Shawn from the first few seasons of “Psych”), that time comes with a job at a water park. This kid definitely needs something fun in his life–his mom (Toni Collette) is going through a rough time, her new boyfriend (Steve Carell) is a jerk, there’s no one to hang out with, and it doesn’t help that he’s uncomfortable in his own skin. But that changes when he runs off to a water park near Carell’s vacation home and finds himself getting employed by the wacky man-child manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell), which he decides to keep a secret. He fits in with the older staff members and has numerous misadventures that help boost his self-esteem and cause him to take chances and stand up for himself.

“The Way, Way Back” was co-written and co-directed by Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, who also won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for their collaboration on the Alexander Payne film “The Descendants.” Rash has said that he put a lot of his own childhood experiences into the character of Duncan…even down to his own mother’s ex-boyfriend labeling him a “3” on a scale of 1 to 10. (No joke–he admitted this in the BluRay bonus features! People can be very cruel.) There’s obviously a lot of passion put into this script, and it shows. The comedy and drama feel like they’re part of the same movie (like the best “dramedies”) and the characters all feel real and fleshed out……well, for the most part. Allison Janney’s constantly-drunken, wisecracking single mother character feels a little too out-there, but…eh, it’s still Allison Janney–she’s always great even when she plays obnoxious.

Everyone else is GREAT. Liam James sells “awkward” really well, and he’s all too relatable. There are a lot of levels to Toni Collette’s mother character that become too obvious when watching the film again. Steve Carell’s character is a jerk but a realistic one–you can tell there are times when he wants to do better, but there’s just too much in the way…like a harpy played by Amanda Peet. AnnaSophia Robb is a three-dimensional dream-girl. Maya Rudolph is great as the water park’s general manager who takes things more seriously than Owen and yet can’t resist Owen’s charm at the end of the day. River Alexander is funny as the lazy-eyed kid who is constantly picked on by his mother (Janney) and ultimately becomes Duncan’s friend. And Faxon & Rash are good and funny in their own side roles as water-park staff.

And then you got Sam Rockwell……I’ll just say it–this is my absolute favorite Sam Rockwell performance. He’s great in a complex role in “Moon” and even better in his Oscar-winning performance that actually made a bigoted a-hole kind of empathetic in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and he’s always been great in other stuff. But look at him here in this clip and you only get a little taste of his energy in this movie! Every time he’s on screen, I smile! And he BECOMES this movie.

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