The Way, Way Back Review
by Zachary Marsh
Friendships can come from the most unlikely of places. I know this from my own experience. I’ve made friends with college kids, fellow critics, and even my middle school vice-principal, all due to our common interest in film. Friendships in movies sort of happen the same way, though many times they can spark up miraculously. In “The Way, Way Back,” the directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, 14 year-old protagonist Duncan finds a friend (and a summer job) in Owen, the manager of the Water Wizz water park that’s just a bike ride away from the summer home of his Mom’s jerky boyfriend. The friendship between the sarcastic yet lovable Owen and the shy/lonely Duncan is reminiscent of the friendship between Bill Murray and Chris Makepeace’s characters in the 1979 comedy “Meatballs,” in which the outgoing adult takes the lonely underdog under his wing and gets him to break out of his shell in order to have a great summer. “The Way, Way Back” got a lot of praise at Sundance this year, and I can definitely see why. The film is both emotional and hilarious, as well as relatable, which makes it one of the summer’s freshest and most likable movies.
By far the best performances in the film come from Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, but each for different reasons. Steve Carell plays someone I don’t think we’ve ever seen in a film of his before: a despicable, cruel human being. The trailer for the film doesn’t even show his most evil moments in the movie, which is a good thing. Carell proves with his performance here that he can actually succeed at giving a strong dramatic performance that maintains little to no laughs at all. I can see Carell going on the same pathway as fellow comedians Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler, who’ve all shown that their talents extend far beyond comedic roles.
As for Sam Rockwell, he’s doing just fine as a comedic actor. Rockwell channels the comedic mannerisms of Bill Murray in his portrayal of Owen. Owen is one of those guys who you just want to be best friends with because of how hilarious and cool he is. Everything Rockwell says or does simply makes you like the character more. If Melissa MacCarthy is able to get an Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role in “Bridesmaids,” then Sam Rockwell here deserves to win it. Seriously, Rockwell steals the movie from all of his co-stars, despite all of the co-stars being really good.
Liam James’ role in this movie reminded me of Keir Gilchrist from “It’s Kind of A Funny Story,” in which the performance was good, but at times unconvincing. James, who was in the disaster flick “2012,” gives a convincing enough performance that is pretty relatable for the most part, but there was one particular scene where the emotion felt forced and not entirely genuine. That’s not saying that it ruined the entire film, it just slightly took away from the one particular scene. But, like “It’s Kind of A Funny Story,” the film itself is still impactful and sets off a blender of emotions that mix comedy and drama into something quite beautiful.
“The Way, Way Back” is the type of movie that will just make you smile upon leaving the theater. There are plenty of laughs to be had, particularly from Sam Rockwell and Alison Janney. The drama for the most part flows very well and really makes you sympathize with Duncan and his situation. This is a summer film that families might fall in love with. Despite being PG-13, there is something that even the 6 year old kid in the family will love. Sure, it gets thematic and a little heavy at times. I give props to Nat Faxon and Jim Rash for making this film harmless yet effective, and, like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg with “This is The End,” being able to make a very solid directorial debut that can just about please everyone. With this and “The Descendants” under their belts, I can’t wait to see what these two geniuses write and direct in the near future. Hopefully the films they come out with in the future will be just as endearing as this film. “The Way, Way Back” is a hilarious, poignant, and relatable coming-of-age flick that families of all ages should seek out when it hits a theater near them.