Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Watch: First Trailer For ‘Effie Gray’ Starring Dakota Fanning, Emma Thompson, Tom Sturridge & Greg Wise Watch: First Trailer For ‘Effie Gray’ Starring Dakota Fanning, Emma Thompson, Tom Sturridge & Greg Wise Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics TIFF Review: 'Cake' Starring Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington & More TIFF Review: 'Cake' Starring Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington & More Watch: First Trailer For Rom-Com 'Playing It Cool' With Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Aubrey Plaza & More Watch: First Trailer For Rom-Com 'Playing It Cool' With Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Aubrey Plaza & More Watch: First Trailer For ‘Serena’ Starring Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper Watch: First Trailer For ‘Serena’ Starring Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made Fall TV Preview: Our 22 Most Anticipated Shows For The Rest Of 2014 Fall TV Preview: Our 22 Most Anticipated Shows For The Rest Of 2014 The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Sundance Review: 'The Way, Way Back' A Familiar But Crowd Pleasing Coming-Of-Age Tale From Co-Writers Of 'The Descendants'

Photo of Cory Everett By Cory Everett | @modage January 22, 2013 at 11:03AM

Back in 2012, “The Descendants” took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and most people were probably surprised to see Alexander Payne (a previous winner for “Sideways” and nominee for “Election”) flanked by Dean Pelton from “Community” and that dude from “Club Dredd.” For the first time in Payne’s career he had not collaborated with his usual co-writer Jim Taylor, but instead rewritten a previously existing screenplay by the aforementioned Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (which was in itself an adaptation of a novel).
1
The Way, Way Back Sam Rockwell

Back in 2012, “The Descendants” took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and most people were probably surprised to see Alexander Payne (a previous winner for “Sideways” and nominee for “Election”) flanked by Dean Pelton from “Community” and that dude from “Club Dread.” For the first time in Payne’s career he had not collaborated with his usual co-writer Jim Taylor, but instead rewritten a previously existing screenplay by the aforementioned Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (which was in itself an adaptation of a novel). Many assumed that it was Payne’s award to take home and the other two were just lucky to be standing up there. But with their directorial debut (and second screenplay) for “The Way, Way Back,” Rash and Naxon prove that it was no fluke.

Inspired by the duo's summers spent at the beach, going to waterparks and avoiding their parents, the film is a coming-of-age comedy that should easily be a sleeper hit for whichever studio picks it up. (It was the only film this writer has seen this year at the fest to receive a standing ovation. After 4 or 5 days packed with arthouse dramas, even Sundance audiences just want to laugh.) The title is named after the back row in the family station wagon – it’s a term that should be familiar to anyone who grew up in the '70s or '80s – where we meet our protagonist, 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), a pale wallflower on his way to the beach for the summer.

Duncan is asked by his mom’s boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell, playing against type) how he would rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10 and tells him that he is a “3,” pretty much as cruel a gesture as you can lay on an insecure 14-year-old. (This was inspired by a real incident with Rash’s stepfather when he was that age.) Trent and Duncan’s mom Pam (Toni Collette) have been dating for about a year, and in an effort to coax Duncan out of his shell, Trent has inadvertently made his potential step-son even more of an introvert by constantly picking at him. It’s jarring to see Carell playing a guy who’s such an asshole, so much that in early scenes you want to forgive his horrible behavior because you think you’re supposed to be laughing with him.

At the beach house, the family splits off into different factions, with Trent’s daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) heading to the beach while the adults – including sun-baked chatterbox neighbor Betty (an absolutely hilarious Allison Janney), Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet) – get drunk and act like children. “It’s spring break for adults,” says one character. Duncan eventually makes his way to the local water park where he gets a job and befriends his much older co-workers Owen (Sam Rockwell, at his most Sam Rockwell-iest), Caitlyn (the always delightful Maya Rudolph) and Roddy and Lewis (Faxon and Rash). Owen is immature and seemingly carefree and becomes a mentor to Duncan, slowly building his confidence throughout the summer. Duncan also connects with neighbor Susanna (Anna-Sophia Robb) whose parents are also divorced.

Though it’s probably the most overtly commercial film this writer has seen at the festival, it’s not without a few rough edges. Carell’s character is certainly a darker one than we’ve seen from him before, and that may be a tough sell for audiences used to the actor playing sunnier types. Duncan is a few steps more reserved than your typical Hollywood loner, he’s nearly silent in the early section of the film and it takes him quite a while to really start coming into his own.The biggest knock against the film, really, is that you’ve seen countless versions of this story before (the similarly themed “Adventureland” comes to mind). But these little touches are what set the film apart from larger studio fare. (“Night At The Museum” director Shawn Levy was attached to an earlier version of the film, and one shudders to think what he might’ve done with it.)

Rash and Faxon are both former members of the famed improve troupe The Groundlings, which has produced comic talent ranging from Will Ferrell to Phil Hartman among many, many others, so it's not unexpected that the film is very funny (just clock the speed at which hilarious things come flying out of the mouths of both Rockwell and Janney’s characters). But what’s even more impressive is that the film still aims for the heart and isn’t just a series of gags strung together. Comedy is hard all on its own, but comedy that resonates is a rare thing indeed. So it’s admirable that Rash and Faxon are continuing to head down that path they started with “The Descendants,” even if this film isn’t quite as refined. On the surface “The Way, Way Back” is as mainstream of a crowd pleaser that’s graced Park City all week, but by drawing from their experiences, they’ve made a film that entertains and still has a personal stamp. [B]

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, The Way, Way Back, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates