It has been quite some time since a really good coming of age movie was released. Not since the glory days of John Hughes has a movie come out that, in my opinion, really sticks as a staple of the genre itself… And like my Bloodsport review, John Hughes was also in the 80’s… Like Action movies… And slasher flicks… Son of a bitch! 1980’s Why must you be so topical?! But I digress. The Way, Way Back may not be the most memorable or necessarily best coming of age movie I have seen, but it certainly has a charm to it that cannot be denied.
From the collective minds of Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (who both have roles in the film as Lewis and Roddy respectively), the duo is able to bring us a very fascinating story of a young man coming to grips with the divorce of his parents and gaining more confidence in himself from his summer spent at a water park called the Water Wizz. Not to mention a blossoming summer love story between him and the girl next door Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) as well as learning to stand up to his mother’s new love interest and all around douche, Trent (Steve Carell).
Steve Carell is a Damn Good Villain, in What Has to be His Best Performance
Holy shit… Steve Carell does a damn fine job in this film. I never thought I would see a funny man like Steve Carell pull off such a low down, disgusting, horrible, and by all accounts worthless piece of shit and he does it so well. This role, more than any other roles has solidified in my mind the talent that Carell has for acting. Before this, he was in films like Dan in Real Life and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. But this role more than any other has shown that the man not only can make us laugh, but can also act AND be one hell of a good villain. It is his best performance that I have seen and after this I hope to see him more serious roles as soon as possible.
Supreme Performances Across the Board Really
Actually… The acting in general is just flat-out phenomenal. It hasn’t been since Silver Lining’s Playbook that I have seen a cast that did just a fantastic job in all of their roles. Of course, Steve Carell is fantastic as Trent. But Corddry and Amanda Peet (Seriously where the hell has she been?!) put forth good performances as just regular beach bum friends. Allison Janney is good as the drunk divorcee with two kids. The actors that play the staff at the Water Wizz are phenomenal and present very good, yet very realistic comedic foils to the serious drama that is occurring.
The people who really steal the show is Liam James and AnnaSophia Robb who play Duncan and Susanna respectfully. These two young actors are just wonderful in their roles and have a very natural and enjoyable on-screen chemistry. They truly convey a feeling of young awkward teenage infatuation as they experience the summer together in the strange relationship/not relationship kind of way.
There just isn’t a poor performance in the film. Ever character is well acted, relatable, and pretty realistic all things considered.
The Story is Fun Loving, Comedic, But With the Right Amount of Drama to Balance the Film
The story is very well written and has the proper balance of comedy and drama that a movie such as The Way, Way Back needs. Walking the line between comedy and drama is a very fine line. If you put in too much comedy then there are scenes that are suddenly very serious and dramatic and leaves the viewer confused as to why there is such a heavy scene in a laughorama… Or at the other opposite if you are watching a serious drama and all the sudden someone throws a pie, you are not sure how to act since the rest of the movie has been very serious up until that point.
This film walks that line perfectly and in many ways is a good representation of Duncan’s life. The majority of the comedy comes from the water park where Duncan feels at home and happy. It is a safe haven and a feel good type of atmosphere where everyone is welcome. The serious drama takes part in the other half of the film, at the beach house with the dysfunction in Duncan’s new family. It is very dark, dreary, and somber.
The film is well-balanced in both story as well as the presentation. Excellent writing and excellent cinematography.
Being an introvert, I have to say that I am not a fan of the whole ‘All the Introvert needs to be happy is to have an extrovert pull them out of their shell’ schtick. I know it might be hard for extroverts to realize this, but we introverts are quite content with having quiet nights and sometimes do thoroughly enjoy being alone playing video games instead of out at some club dancing. (I would know, going to nightclubs often gives me panic attacks). So please extroverts, we understand and appreciate the sentiment but sometimes we have no desire to get out on the dance floor.
I say this because this film does give off that vibe. Duncan is obviously an introvert and enjoys being by himself instead of out partying around a campfire or playing football with the other guys. He isn’t your loud let’s party type and yet the film treats it like all he needs is some fun-loving extroverted guru to help him break out of his shell of loneliness. I do take concern with this because sometimes people in that situation don’t need it and are content with living their quiet life…
HOWEVER! While this film does have some of those motifs which I do not like… This can actually be considered an exception. Unlike most introverts, Duncan is on the verge of being socially inept. He can barely communicate with anyone and what worse is that he does not seem to enjoy being alone. The acting portrayed by Liam James is pretty phenomenal in this regard as it shows that Duncan does have an introverted and shy nature, but is not necessarily happy with the kind of person that he is. This makes the story a little different then movies such as She’s All That which insults you by saying ‘all a person needs it to let their hair down and quit being a dork and they can become prom queen!’ Duncan does display a disdain for life by the time he is discovered by Owen at the Water Wizz.
I also enjoy the fact that at the end of the movie, Duncan isn’t a spitting image of Owen’s carefree lifestyle. He isn’t some huge loud and flamboyant extrovert who is now the center of the party. He is still a little awkward and is still by all accounts an introvert. But he does have a better look on life, has better interactions with other people, and has learned to stand up for himself and others when it matters the most.
I put this in the meh category because there still are some motifs of the introvert just needs to become an extrovert to be happy. Prime example is the moment that Owen makes him go over to a crowded group and tell break dancers they cannot dance, who naturally force him to dance in front of everyone. It was in lighthearted fun… And in a way the script plays it off as if it was all Owen’s plan the whole time… But still it is a moment I didn’t like.
Luckily though these moments are few and far between and while the movie does have a few of those moments, I did ultimately enjoy where the story took it.
Some Roles are Not Needed, Like Steph
The role that REALLY comes to mind in this is Trent’s daughter Stephanie (Zoe Levin). I can understand that they want to convey how hard Duncan has it by not only giving him a terrible ‘step father’ but a horrible ‘step sister’ as well. But it really is sad whenever every character in this movie is either a well-rounded characters, likable, or essential to the plot… But they feel like real people. While some of the people who work at the water slide feel like characters, the people at the beach house and the problems that are associated with Trent’s life feel like real people… Except Steph. Steph comes across as this bizarre stereotype of the bitchest human being to ever walk existence. Although Levin does a fantastic job portraying her, Steph’s feels too over the top to exist. She is by all accounts the worst person in this film. At least Trent made some (all be it near zero) effort to bond with these people all be it he is an absolute douche and Amanda Peet’s character Joan still comes across as a fun-loving free spirit… Steph is just portrayed as a horrible selfish human being who has absolutely no plot to the story other to call Susanna a bitch and torment Duncan. I guess the evil step sister stereotype is still a trope… But I just do not think it worked in this film and it came across as rather distracting.
I Disagree With the Mother’s Decision (SPOILER ALERT)
There is a spoiler alert here and I am basically spoiling the ending so you have been warned… I have major problems with the mother’s decision not only to stay with Trent but to leave at the end of the film. Now I know that this isn’t the story book ending and personally I did enjoy the ending… But I still can’t stand the mother’s decision and it drives me insane to no end.
So let’s get into this… Throughout the movie, Duncan slowly learns that Trent is cheating on his mother with Kip’s wife Joan. It all comes to a head when the evidence is so insurmountable that Duncan cannot take it anymore, snaps, and calls out his mother and Trent.
Well later in the film, Trent decides he has had enough and wants to leave and the mother decides to stay with Trent. When Duncan rightfully challenges his mother, his mother basically says that at that stage in her life, it is better to be in a secure relationship, all be it one with an extramarital affairs, then face whatever is to come from being alone. This leads to the final moments at the water park and the eventual end as they are leaving and Duncan and his mom are in the way way back seat of the station wagon.
Yes, this happens a lot, more often than it should. Yes this ending is more grounded in reality… But really I feel like this is just a sad and tragic type of ending. It is obvious that this isn’t going to last forever. Duncan is 14 years old. He isn’t going to grow up, marry Susanna, and work happily ever after at a Waterpark his whole life. That is just stupid. HOWEVER the implications of this ending are far worse than what is presented. The mother still gives no indication that she plans to leave Trent so regardless of Duncan’s newfound confidence he is still returning home to a horrible household with a mean-spirited and hateful human being, his bitchy daughter, and a mother who is willing to give infidelity a pass in exchange for security. Not to mention his father does not want to deal with him.
Not only that, it makes the mother look like a horrible and meek individual who puts her own fears ahead of what is best for her son. I feel the more satisfying ending would have been the mother leaves Trent, they rent a beach house or something for the rest of the summer, then the two leave together with fond farewells to the employees at the Water Wizz as well as Susanna.
The real ending is more grounded in reality and makes more sense, but I still feel there was a more satisfying ending that was passed up in exchange for what is a pretty bittersweet end when you look at the picture in the long run.
Overall The Way, Way Back is a very well-balanced and enjoyable movie. It does have some predictable elements to it and there are parts that I disagree with, yes. But they are ultimately small potatoes to what is by all accounts a great movie. The Way, Way Back is one of those films that I could just watch over and over again.
Final Score 4/5
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