The Way Way Back (2013)

7 Jul

Water parks and fireworks have long been staple of every American kid’s typical summertime, and these two elements provide the background for this rather typical indie drama. The Way Way Back tells the story of one introverted boy named Duncan and his eventual coming to terms with others around him, especially his mother’s divorce.

The film marks the directorial debut of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the writing duo known for their Oscar-winning screenplay to 2012’s The Descendants, and the similarities are evident between the two films. Both are character-driven dramas about parental figures who are out-of-touch with their children, both films display instances of awkward youth romances, both films are shot on these exotic sea-side locations that upper-class white families can afford.  Overall, it seemed to me that this was just a copy+paste of the exact formula that won these directors an Academy Award. Which is all fine and dandy, except I didn’t really enjoy The Descendants that much in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, The Way Way Back is a very enjoyable, family-friendly movie.  The ensemble cast, (featuring Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janey, and the ever-entertaining Sam Rockwell) is great and the story, while predictable and irrational, is fast-paced and heartfelt. Most impressively, the film wraps things up at a neat and clean 103 minutes. It’s even got a good amount of smart, witty humor.

The main issue here is that the characters (with the exception of Rockwell’s and Rudolph’s) felt fake and overused, playing off of cliche’s we have all seen a billion times before. The film was made by two amateur directors, and boy – it shows, especially with the children.  Acting heavyweights like Carrell and Janey can hold their own and create bearable chemistry, but the scenes featuring two children flirting with each other (and there was by far too much of that) felt so awkward and forced into a trope that I literally had to close my eyes.

The one bright beam of light here that makes the film enjoyable was Sam Rockwell, who delivers his lines so well that even at their cheesiest (“You need to learn how to create your own path”) are a welcoming relief to the lackluster script.

What Faxon and Rash need to realize is that in a character-driven film like this, characters must take priority over everything else and should be developed into authentic and memorable individuals (think Little Miss Sunshine, The Squid and the Whale, The Ice Storm, or any David O. Russel or P.T. Anderson film) and not simply used as cookie-cutter plot devices.

 

Rating 5/10

Similar to: The Descendants, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Moneyball

 

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