Awkward adolescent angst: ‘The Way, Way Back’ (2013).

31 Aug

There’s something to be said for films that adhere to the standard tropes and archetypes of a choice genre, that disregard any and all notions of innovation, but also manage to churn out something memorable. The Way Way Back is a total ‘formula’ movie in this regard, yet what it does with the established recipe is so marvellous that it’s impossible to criticise its lack of originality.

The directorial début of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (two intelligent and very funny Groundlings whose repertoire includes Community and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), The Way, Way Back stars Liam James as Duncan, a quiet and unassuming teenager who keeps to himself. At the behest of his unhelpful mother (Toni Collette) and awful stepdad Trent (Steve Carrell), Duncan is forced to spend the summer at a beach house. He escapes the unfolding drama at home by landing a job at the local waterpark, and making an unlikely new friend in the form of Owen (Sam Rockwell), the park’s manager.

What sounds like a clichéd and potentially dull film is bolstered by actors who really play to their strengths. Liam James personifies awkward, and now that he finally has a great movie under his belt I’m curious as to where he’ll go next. Steve Carrell plays his second douchebag of the year (following Burt Wonderstone), espousing the acting range he clearly has. Maya Rudolph is as charming as ever, but it’s a draw between Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney (Duncan’s soul-brother and the waterpark and his awful neighbour, respectively) for the comedic highlight; virtually every line from each conjured a giggle.

Probably my favourite aspect of this film is that Faxon and Rash realise and empathise with the plight of the introvert. Duncan’s parents, their friends and the insufferably low-functioning beach girls all endeavour to coax him out of his metaphorical shell in many different ways: forced socialising, teasing and general prodding only serve to make things worse. The directors know that the problem isn’t his shyness; it’s the seemingly endless amount of unsympathetic people Duncan’s surrounded by, which is exemplified upon his discovering the waterpark.

In flogging the tired tropes and clichés of “that one summer than changed everything” movies, Faxon and Rash have hit a homerun with The Way, Way Back. Sprinkled with just the right amounts of sweetness and melodrama and garnished with sterling performances and deft writing, this is one of the better movies you’ll see all year.

Simon says: Adventureland for the new generation.


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