IFFBoston 11 Review: The Way, Way Back
Starring: Liam James, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Carell
Plot: An introverted teenager spends his summer working at a water park with his carefree co-workers rather than with his beach-going mom and her passive-aggressive boyfriend.
If you are wondering who the hell Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are, that’s ok. These guys have been utility comedy players for awhile showing up in small supporting roles. You may remember Faxon as a member of the German drinking team in Beer Fest. You will definitely remember Jim Rash as the eccentric, effeminate Dean Pelton from NBC’s Community. Together they won an Oscar in 2012 for the movie, The Descendants. They shared the stage and the award with Alexander Payne, who many assumed deserved most of the credit since those other two guys were just bit players in comedy. With The Way Way Back, you can see their Oscar is no fluke.
The Way Way Back is not the kind of movie I expected to see at an independent film festival. I expected more eccentric, artsy, and/or amateurish type of fare. This, on the other hand, is a bona fide crowd pleaser. It stars Liam James as Duncan, an introverted teenager who is so introverted he barely speaks. His mother, Pam, played by Toni Collette, brings him to the beach for the summer to stay with her new boyfriend Trent, played by Steve Carell. This is a real different change of pace for Steve Carell. He hasn’t played this level of jerk since Bruce Almighty. He is damn near unrecognizable in the role. Pam and Trent spend most of their summer vacation hanging out with their adult neighbors (including an incredibly funny Allison Janney) getting drunk, staying up all night, pretty much living like they are on spring break completely oblivious to Duncan, who has an overwhelming desire to escape.
Duncan finds himself at a local water park run by the developmentally arrested Owen (played by Sam Rockwell). I have seen Rockwell tap in to his inner Steve Buscemi and his inner Christopher Walken, but this time he taps into his inner Bill Murray. He is very reminiscent of Murray’s roles in Meatballs and Stripes. He tap dances around responsibility while making up stories and talking a mile a minute. He is just so incredibly funny, it is sometimes easy to miss the jokes over the audience laughter. He always knows exactly what to say, and his ability to avoid responsibility makes him especially gifted to pull the young man out of his shy funk. Owen is the fairy godfather archetype who swoops him, adds some chaos to Duncan’s world, and makes his life all the better in the process.
Nowadays, comedies have terrible tone and pace. They usually front load the first three quarters of the movie with joke after joke with very little care of whether or not they are even hitting the mark, and then in the last quarter, they had shit load of melodrama to resolve whatever plot they were trying to write in the first place. The Way Way Back is a much different kind of animal that sets out from the very first minute to balance out the comedy and drama so that both are constantly intertwined making for a much more satisfying story.
I expect that The Way Way Back will be a sleeper hit, like Little Miss Sunshine was. It is laugh out loud funny while still capable of carrying on a poignant and interesting story.
What to Watch: Adventureland, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Ryan Reynolds, has a similar premise and for the most part nails that balance of comedy and drama like The Way Way Back does.