The Way, Way Back
Cinema Release: 1st August.
Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
Running time 103 mins.
Reviewed by Douglas Kennedy.
The Way, Way Back is a generally ‘nice’ little film with a familiar line in coming-of-age themes, which are sometimes funny, sometimes charming and sometimes as irritating as a mouth ulcer.
A bit like the average teenager really.
Pathetic is a good word to describe 14-year-old Duncan’s (Liam James) seemingly sad little life as the classically awkward adolescent struggles to shake off his sulky childhood caterpillar skin, spread his true colours, and float like a mature and self-confident butterfly.
The film’s scene is set as Duncan, his mum Pam (Toni Collette), her obnoxious boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter, Stepth (Zoe Levin) motor to their beachside holiday home.
When the women fall asleep, Trent takes the opportunity to show off his nasty side and tells Duncan in no uncertain terms that on a scale of one to 10 he barely rates a three.
Any self-respecting adult would insist Trent stop the car, get out, and walk off or maybe even advise Trent to watch his mouth or risk a punch in the nose.
But naturally Duncan, who has already been humiliated by being seated in the vintage station car’s rear, and facing the other way, keeps his own council.
The film’s first half is packed with examples of Trent’s taunting, and as the lad hardly speaks up for himself everyone, including mum, is so self-absorbed they don’t have any insight into this dysfunctional hybrid family.
One of the film’s major flaws is that everyone – family and friends alike – either totally fails to recognise each other’s wants and needs or is so unpleasant they don’t care.
But for all that there’s some ‘nice’ little touches, which make it a ‘nice’ little film, and most of those come from the water themed park on the other side of town.
Although Duncan does a lot of sulking, he eventually takes affirmative action and rides off on his bicycle looking for a better summer.
Co-directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon in part are setting out to create a nostalgic retro look at the 1980s – when coming-age-films spiked – but it is difficult to gauge how well they succeeded, because it is such an American centric world.
The US vacation, like baseball and American rules, is a unique experience to that country, but I am prepared to believe that kids were more or less left to their own devices on long beachside holidays in that era.
Anyway, it is a good thing that Duncan is left to his own devices by his mum, and stepdad, who just want to have adult fun, as that leads him to water park manager Owen (Sam Rockwell) who has a gift for connecting with troubled adolescents and avoiding any real work.
Owen is cool and most of the other theme park workers are suitable cookie in that distinctive American way that amuses some and leaves others indifferent.
Still as far as Duncan is concerned it is just what the doctor ordered, and he is soon racing up that one-to-10 personality chart with a bullet, although no one at homes notices.
Without giving anything away, there’s a turning point in the movie when Duncan discovers something shonky about Trent and gains the upper hand. At the same time mum’s eyes are opened to some of the problems facing young Duncan and the tables begin to turn.
The Way, Way back is never going to turn the world on its head as a big screen blockbuster, but there’s something redeeming in it and I am sure one day will have a TV run or do well on DVD.
Australian actress Toni Collette is having a good run in America with films such as the Oscar nominated The Sixth Sense and TV’s The United States of Tara following the wonderful Muriel’s Wedding and somehow manages to create a warm character in Pam despite her short comings and lack of insight for most of the movie.
Cardell, who is best known for TV’s The Office and the movie, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, seems strangely miscast as the baddie, although he does manage to irritate.
I believe baddies in movies should do a little more than irritate.
Other contributors include Sam Rockwell, of Safe Men and Iron Man 2 fame, Allison Janney (The West Wing, The Help), AnnaSophia Robb (Soul Surfer, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory), Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids,) and Liam James (The Killing). The co-directors Faxon and Rash, who created the story, took out an Academy Award for penning The Descendants.
Remember The Descents starring George Cooney dealing with family life in Hawaii?
Now that was a really good film.