Written by Markus Robinson, Edited Nicole I. Ashland
Markus Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material
Now playing at CineArts Santana Row in San Jose, California:
Described by some as a “spectacular coming of age story”, most critics have been touting “The Way, Way Back” as the best movie of the summer. But it’s not. In fact, far from it.
Haven’t we seen this all before? An awkward kid goes on vacation with his parents (in this case, his mother and her boyfriend) who just don’t understand him. But on vacation he meets a girl (who plays by her own rules) and/or discovers an activity which makes him feel alive for the first time. Oops! I hope that wasn’t a spoiler.
Side Note: OK, so I realize that there are tons of movies which display premises which are very familiar to a majority of audiences, but work anyway. The main problem with “The Way, Way Back” is that it is so familiar and so formulaic in its structure, that after a while it turns into little more than a boring after school special.
Written and directed by Nat Faxon (Ben and Kate) and Jim Rash (Community) and containing a cast which consists of Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and (to a lesser extent) Amanda Peet, one would have thought that “The Way, Way Back” would have been…well, way, way better. The primary story centers around Duncan (played by Liam James) who is dragged on a summer trip by his mother (Collette) and her macho boyfriend Trent, played by Carell, who has a tan, therefore he must be playing a jerk. The secondary plots focus on Duncan’s interactions with a neighbor girl (played by young Carrie Bradshaw herself, AnnaSophia Robb) and Duncan’s interactions with the manager of a local water park, Owen, played by Rockwell. Much like “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” there is only one of these storylines which is at all interesting and it stars Sam Rockwell. Rockwell serves up some moments of comedic brilliance, as the overly sarcastic, child-at-heart, but overall good guy, who acts as a mentor for Duncan. It’s just too bad that he isn’t in every scene.
It’s obvious that the actors (mainly Janney and Rockwell) are doing their best to elevate “The Way, Way Back” into something of substance, but are outright suffocated when thrown into the deep end of the generic coming of age swimming pool. Even Carell plays a character that starts off as interesting and multi-layered, but is soon swallowed up by the formulaic nature of this movie. Every character here fits into a mold. As I stated before, you have your awkward male teenage outcast, the mother who just doesn’t understand, the overbearing step-parental, the wacky divorcee (Allison Janney) the girl next door who is somehow different from all of the other girls next door, the older guy who connects with said teenager partly because he himself has yet to fully mature and partly because he went through the exact same thing when he was a teenager, etc.
And the problems don’t stop there: “The Way, Way Back” is spearheaded by one of those annoying scripts with tons of dialogue that is so patronizingly on the nose, that if you were to watch this with a large group, you may be mistaken for someone having a seizure with of the amount of eye rolling you’d be doing.
Final Thought: Filled with some heartwarming moments, but mostly a lot of safe, coming of age box ticking, call me heartless but “The Way, Way Back” left me pretty cold. In fact, the only way I could see anybody getting past the aggressively generic atmosphere, is if said person connects with Duncan’s plight specifically (which I didn’t). So, much like “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “The Descendents” before it (“The Descendents” was also co-written by Faxon and Rash) “The Way, Way Back” (currently) stands as the most overrated film of the year.
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