THE WAY, WAY BACK Review

     July 5, 2013

the-way-way-back-sam-rockwell-slice

[This is a re-post of my review from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.  The Way, Way Back opens today in limited release.]

In their directorial debut, The Way, Way Back, writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash show they’re incredibly adept at humor. They know how to tell a good joke, push the envelope without being mean-spirited, and find the right actors to deliver the comedy. Unfortunately, a film has to put story and characters above all else, and the film fails where it matters most. Faxon and Rash put a painfully tedious character at the center of their movie, and then try to convince us that anyone would help their uninteresting protagonist. Filled with one-dimensional characters moving through a predictable plot, The Way, Way Back can tell a joke, but has difficulty doing anything else.

Duncan (Liam James) is being dragged to the beach house of his mom’s mean-spirited boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell). Duncan seems content to quietly and sullenly endure the summer, but his mom, Pam (Toni Collette), is intent on keeping him in tow so he can spend time with Trent’s friends Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet), and their drunken, comically inappropriate neighbor, Betty (Allison Janney). The morose 14-year-old manages to break free when he comes into the orbit of the freewheeling Owen (Sam Rockwell), who helps give the kid some much needed confidence by hiring him to work at the water park, Water Wizz.

the-way-way-back-liam-james

The biggest problem in The Way, Way Back is that we simply don’t want to root for Duncan. Faxon and Rash clearly want us on the kid’s side. We’re supposed to want him to fight back against Trent, get together with his attractive neighbor Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), and have the best summer ever. If they hoped to accomplish this, then they should have cast a more sympathetic lead, and spent less time watching him mope around. Furthermore, they fail to give Duncan an ounce of potential. We’re left to wonder what Owen and Susanna could possibly see in Duncan. He’s got as much presence as a deck chair except deck chairs are useful. He doesn’t seem nice or mean or much of anything. But the plot demands that a colorful character like Owen transform the lump of a person into the cool kid.

Rockwell almost makes it work. The magic of Sam Rockwell is that he can play the same character again and again, and make it feel fresh every time. Rockwell is once again playing a fast-talking, quick-witted, slightly sleazy, nevertheless endearing rogue, but he still gets the biggest laughs in the movie. He has instant chemistry with anyone on screen, and when we see him do his thing, it’s easy to forget the character’s unimaginative and predictable purpose. Faxon and Rash even attempt to give Owen a personal conflict regarding his feelings for his co-worker (Maya Rudolph), but that subplot is so underdeveloped that it’s rendered meaningless. The Way, Way Back is Duncan’s story, and it’s not a particularly interesting one.

the-way-way-back-liam-james-annasophia-robb

Faxon and Rash are constantly adding window dressing, but never put their emphasis on making Duncan a compelling character. They have Steve Carell playing against type, but it’s a novelty that quickly wears off, and the character offers no surprises nor does he elicit any sympathy. He’s simply a bad guy who’s wrong for Pam. Janney is given the freedom to chew the scenery like crazy, but there’s no reason to complain when she’s providing some of the movie’s best moments.

But it all comes back to character and plot, and The Way, Way Back doesn’t have enough of either. Even the jokes only come from a handful of characters, and when they’re off screen, we’re still stuck with dull old Duncan. We know how his summer is going to end, and rather than coming off as an 80s throwback, Faxon and Rash’s film simply feels stale. The Way, Way Back does have laughs, but it needs more than comedy to develop into the charming and heartwarming crowd-pleaser it aims to be.

Rating: C-

the-way-way-back-poster

Around The Web

Latest News

3 New ANT-MAN Images Size up Paul Rudd, Michael Doulgas, and Evanelinge Lilly

Marvel’s next film is less than two months away.

9 Movies You Forgot Were Scored by Hans Zimmer

One of the best composers of our time has a resume that's both extensive and versatile, ranging from 'Cool Runnings' to 'Mission: Impossible 2'.

FANTASTIC FOUR International Trailer Brings New Footage; Josh Trank Denies Reshoot Rumors

The director takes to social media to debunk troubled word on the upcoming blockbuster.

More THE MARTIAN Images Feature Matt Damon Surviving Ridley Scott’s Red Planet

The upcoming film also stars Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, and Jeff Daniels.

DHEEPAN Review | Cannes 2015

Jacques Audiard's latest film won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Bad Weekend: The Last 10 Memorial Day Movies, Ranked

It turns out most Memorial Day movies aren’t very good.

AMY Review | Cannes 2015

Asif Kapadia's ('Senna') documentary is a biography of sorts, but also an incredible tribute to her as an artist.

Cannes 2015 Winners: Rooney Mara Best Actress, DHEEPAN the Palme d’Or, More

This year's Cannes jury includes Guillermo del Toro, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Sienna Miller, and is headed up by Joel and Ethan Coen. What were their favorites of the fest?

CHRONIC Review | Cannes 2015

Michel Franco’s 'Chronic' stars Tim Roth as a homecare nurse who gets too involved with his patients.

Box Office: TOMORROWLAND Stays Ahead of PITCH PERFECT 2 with $32.1 Million

Disney’s ‘Tomorrowland’ held in first place for the three-day weekend with an estimated $32.1 million. ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ came in second with $30.3 million. ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ was down 47% in third while the ‘Poltergeist’ reboot opened as expected, in fourth place.

Page 1 of 3,96312345...102030...Last »