The Way, Way Back

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
July 5, 2013 12:00 AM
5 Comments
  • |
Liam James and AnnaSophia Robb Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
This is my favorite film of the summer so far. It entertained me and left me with a feeling of satisfaction that’s all too rare, especially at this time of year, when Hollywood shoots off its biggest guns. The Way, Way Back is best described as a comedy, but like many of the best films in that genre it’s rooted in truth: honest observations about family dynamics, adolescence, dependence and independence. I loved it.

Liam James, whom some of you will recognize from his roles on the TV series Psych and The Killing, plays a sullen 14-year-old boy whose divorced mom (Toni Collette) has dragged him and his sister to the summer home of her obnoxious boyfriend (Steve Carell) in a New England seaside community. Here he must learn to sink or swim, figuratively speaking, in an adult world that remains a mystery, populated as it is by a variety of oddballs (including Allison Janney and Rob Corddry). He finds unexpected refuge at a nearby water park that’s run with reckless abandon by a free spirit, played with charismatic, comic gusto by Sam Rockwell. Maya Rudolph is also quite good as his long-suffering assistant.

Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
The Way, Way Back marks the directorial debut of writer-performers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who collaborated with Alexander Payne on the screenplay of The Descendants. While they fill relatively minor roles in this film, they imbue the characters around them with three-dimensional qualities that give the movie its enormous appeal. What’s more, they don’t take the easy way out of difficult story situations; ultimately, it’s not just the boy who grows and changes over the course of the film. I especially like the resolution; it feels right, and even better, it dodges Hollywood cliché.

This, to me, is a perfect summer movie cocktail: funny, endearing, poignant, and true…entertainment that respects its audience. Don’t miss it.

          

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5 Comments

  • Roger Green | August 23, 2013 12:18 PMReply

    Leonard - I just saw this movie this week, and this movie was surprisingly moving.
    But you do have a small factual error. It's overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Carell)'s daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin), not Pam (Toni Collette)'s daughter, on the trip.

  • Roger Breit | July 26, 2013 10:21 AMReply

    You really hit the nail on the head when you were on Doug Loves Movies when you said that this is the kind of movie that gets lost amid the cacophony of summer movie ad blitzes. I was guilty of just what you said, going to see worse movies that had been heavily advertised because I "had" to see it opening weekend while putting this one on the back burner.

    I took my frend to see it last night at a Cinebistro and had one of the best nights of the summer. Thanks Leonard.

  • jacob | October 28, 2013 11:59 PM

    So weird. I have been catching up on the DLM podcasts and listened to that one just today. Totally agree with you (and Leonard).

  • Sophia | July 12, 2013 1:18 AMReply

    I appreciate your words regarding this movie. My observation to make it, is the girl was not his sister but Trent's daughter.

  • Rigot Ormsby | July 5, 2013 2:32 AMReply

    Saw it a couple of weeks ago during the Sydney Film Festival. I had short-listed it amongst the many films I wanted to see as a 'Maybe', but due to a combination of list priorities (my own and my girlfriends), screening times and work commitments we fortunately decided on this film as one of our 5. Whilst I am well aware for Sam Rockwells penchant for goofball characters, he is at full force here and comes across as 'the sort of guy every directionless non-conformist slacker wishes they could be', if only we were all so irreverant and witty. Alison Janney will always be C.J to me however her natural comedic talent was a complete surprise and purely due to the Janney/Rockwell combination I found myself wishing the film was longer. However it sits well within its final duration and all the players in the film, especially a Steve Carell going against type (the straightest character of the ensemble), are exemplary. I was lucky to be at a screening where Toni Collette presented the film with a surprise onstage appearance by Carell who happened to be in town promoting Despicable Me 2.

    Thoroughly enjoyable. Highly recommend to anyone who likes a tender yet funny coming of age story that avoids most of the cliches.

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