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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » The Way, Way Back
The Way, Way Back
Fox Searchlight Pictures // PG-13 // July 5, 2013
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted July 4, 2013 | E-mail the Author
C O N T E N T
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The Sundance Film Festival has inspired countless independent coming-of-age flicks to be created. A lot of them go under the radar, but some of them are able to stand taller than the rest. This is primarily due to some support from well-known individuals from Hollywood. They're able to bring more attention to the motion picture than an all-emerging cast and crew. Regardless of those involved, the film won't go very far if it isn't any good. Some filmmakers have difficulty relating with audiences on a more organic level. Fox Searchlight Pictures has ahold of a film that will surely standout from the rest. The Way, Way Back succeeds in most of its goals, which will cause target audiences to be thrilled about its ability to connect with a countless number of moviegoers.

Duncan (Liam James) is a teenager who isn't very happy that his parents are divorced. One summer, he's forced to travel along with his mother's (Toni Collette) new boyfriend around. Trent (Steve Carell) is a horrible person to everybody around him. As a lonely teenager, he decides to venture on his own. He ultimately develops a friendship with Owen (Sam Rockwell), who works as a manager at the local water park. Duncan finds himself working at the park and having precious life experiences. This coming-of-age tale tells the story of a young teenager growing with the guidance of a mentor.

The film's first scene is perhaps one of the most important ones to be found through the entire motion picture. Trent asks Duncan how he would rate himself on a scale of one to ten. Despite Duncan's response, he tells the teenager that he's more of a "three out of ten." While Duncan appears to simply ignore this horrible comment, it sticks with him. Writer/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash clearly comprehend how to utilize this sequence in order to convey the protagonist's lack of self-confidence. When a person is told something so many times, it ultimately begins to stick. This moment defines the problems that this teenager will have to face throughout the running time. It's quite enchanting to watch a likable character grow on screen. Faxon and Rash develop this role extremely well, as I found myself entirely immersed in this character's development. This can be difficult, since countless coming-of-age stories can become too sentimental. The Way, Way Back has a few scenes that could be seen as being slightly melodramatic, but the majority of the picture leans one way or the other between comedy and drama. The latter portion of the film is primarily found through the final act. Instead of delivering an even spread, the filmmakers deliver slightly too much of it, too late.

When it isn't trying to play off of your emotions, this dramedy is trying to make you laugh. The majority of this comes from the scenes at the water park. Owen clearly brings the laughs, since his character has the best humorous material. Some of the jokes are a bit safe, but there are some genuine gags to be found. The awkward chemistry between Owen and Duncan will certainly deliver some laugh-out-loud reactions. Putting the drama and the jokes aside, The Way, Way Back is most successful in how relatable it is. Loneliness is a common feeling for many teenagers and this film touches upon this subject matter very nicely. The characters themselves are surely the strongest asset of the feature, since it's incredibly easy to create a connection with these characters. This coming-of-age movie shows how every year aids in shaping who we become as human beings. This isn't the type of film that should be seen from a glance, as it should be watched closely.

Regardless of an actor's career, many of them turn to films with smaller budgets. This usually allows them to grasp a stronger understanding of the character and include their own twist on the persona. Steve Carell takes a step away from the spotlight and enters The Way, Way Back as Trent. Most of his motion pictures feature him as somebody we're being forced to like, which is why it's interesting to see him play the part of such an intentionally unlikable person. He does a solid job and will surely leave viewers wanting somebody to hit Trent. Liam James is convincing as Duncan. Whether he's incredibly awkward or unraveling under pressure, James conveys this teenager with excellent results. Sam Rockwell is as charming as ever in the role of Owen. Not only is Rockwell believable, but he adds a certain energy to the overall picture that wouldn't have been there otherwise. This cast makes quite an impact on the narrative itself. Fortunately, it's a positive one.

Even though this is an entirely different picture, The Way, Way Back has a similar visual tone to The Descendants. The writer/director duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash bring audiences a setting that one would imagine to be bright and glowing, but the colors are a bit more toned down than one would imagine. The film constantly plays with its setting in order to enhance the plot. Even though this is a drama mixed with some comedy, that doesn't change how it utilizes its visuals. Every aspect of this dramedy is quite cohesive.

I have always been a sucker for coming-of-age flicks. When they're genuine and heartfelt, it has the potential to be a special movie going experience. While this isn't a groundbreaking motion picture, I found it to be quite enjoyable. The majority of the humor works and the topics are relatable. Those who enjoy these films will certainly find this to be a charming feature well-worth seeing. The Way, Way Back is surely a crowd-pleaser that develops a connection with its audience. Recommended.

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