NAFF 2013: “The Way, Way Back” Review – by Mike Holtz


The Way, Way Back Review (Nashville Film Festival 2013)

by Mike Holtz, WeWatchedAMovie

Directed By: Nat Faxon (Directorial Debut) and Jim Rash (Directorial Debut)

Starring: Steve Carell (Crazy, Stupid, Love), Sam Rockwell (Seven Psychopaths) and Liam James (2012)

There are many different  memorable movie theater experiences to be had in this life. The bad (I once had a guy literally light up a cigarette in the seat in front of me and then offer us his popcornthe good, (Geeking out at the spectacle of The Avengers last summerand in the case of The Way, Way Back, the kind that remind you why you love movies and how powerful they can still be. 

Sitting in a packed auditorium at the Nashville Film Festival, in a room with hundreds of other film fans, you could literally feel The Way, Way Back steal the entire audience. To experience such a joyful and honest movie about a time in our lives we all go through in one form or another and know the rest of the crowd is moved by it the same way is rare. This perfect storm made for one of the better movie experiences of my life.  This is one of the most crowd pleasing, easy to relate to and charming movies I have ever had the pleasure to watch. Okay, I’m gushing now…. my apologies.

The Way, Way Back features Duncan (James) as a shy and awkward teenager thrust into an bad situation by his mother who has good intentions but whose  loneliness has led to her to Trent (Carell) who seems inclined to be a father figure to Duncan who he patronizes and calls a 3 on a scale of 1-10. His idea of being a father figure seems to be passive aggressively putting everyone down and using Trent as nothing more than someone to carry his bags.  Duncans mom seems to have all of her focus on Trent, his sister treats him like a freak and for that matter so do most of the grown ups and peers he comes into contact with. When he’s forced to spend his summer with Trents overbearing friends his only solace is a job at the water park; ran by the fun and free living Owen (Rockwell) who takes a liking to Duncan and wants to help him figure himself out.

Steve Carells portrayal of a self serving and overbearing jerk is a far departure from who he is in real life and even who he usually plays in his movies. Yet somehow he completely embodies everything about that guy that as a kid would drive you insane. He perfectly portrays a nightmare of a wannabe step father without ever raising his voice or his hand to anyone.  This also due to a great achievement in the script writing, which is hilariously clever without ever feeling like it’s trying to be. A rare achievement for a coming of age independent film. Sometimes it feels as if other films like this one are trying too hard to force wit and charm but that just doesn’t happen with Way Back. It feels honest in a way most movies never come close to.

Sam Rockwell as Owen is the life of the party and the most enjoyable character in Way Back.  His version of a slacker that never grew up is refreshing, you get that ‘he’s just lazy, not a bad guy vibe’. His lines and the timing he delivers them with are pitch perfect. He truly has the best of intentions for those around him even if he drives them crazy.  I found myself enjoying Way Back the most when he was on screen giving people a hard time and helping guide Duncan. If every kid had an Owen in life to help guide their way, the confusing path of a teenager would be a lot easier to maneuver.

Every member of the cast in Way Back adds more charm, laughter and spot on performances that will remind you of someone you had to deal with at that age. All the way down to the (shockingly) first time Directors (Faxon and Rash) having small parts in the film as Water Park Employees; everyone has some kind of hilarity to offer. Liam James portrayal of Duncan was impressive because while you saw what made him so awkward and strange in the beginning of the film; his transformation to a social and fun teenager felt realistic. He  played two characters in this film and did so believably. He didn’t just get kissed by a girl and become the coolest kid in school, he actually changed who he was based on the experiences and advice he had taken in over the summer.

The Way, Way Back was able to conjure up a lot of those feelings and awkward moments we had as kids in such a non-generic and uplifting way that it almost feels like they aren’t even trying. It takes you back to your childhood and reminds you of the things that frustrated you and broke your heart but more importantly, it takes you to those moments that made you who you are today. The first time you stood up to an adult, or found the place you could be yourself and really have fun. All of this in moments that only last a short summer.  That is hauntingly comparable to how short, fun, scary and important our coming of age years truly are. In short, as a coming of age story this film is perfect and the best I have seen so far in 2013.   The Way, Way Back  has been picked up by Fox Searchlight and will be in theaters July of 2013.


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