Directed and Written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring Steve Carell, Toni Colette, Allison Janney, Anna Sophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, and Liam James
Just as we have had an influx of indie hipster music, we have had an influx of indie hipster movies. Especially the coming of age comedies like Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, and pretty much any other movie starring Michael Cerra. I happen to love these movies (and Michael Cerra), but I find myself growing tired of the same, predictable plot with the same soundtracks, and usually the same cast. Upon seeing the trailer for The Way, Way Back, I initially got pretty darn excited because above all else, I think that Toni Colette can do no wrong, but I thought that the story looked the same as every other movie I had mentioned. Maybe this one will break the mold.
The Way, Way Back starts with an old station wagon driving down a backroad. We see Trent (Carrell) driving and an adolescent boy named Duncan (James) in the way, way back seat (the one that rides backwards). Trent asks Duncan on a scale of 1-10 how the boy sees himself. After much prodding and hesitation, Duncan says that he’s a 6. A good answer for a 14 year old boy to give. After all, we want to show that we think that we’re above average, but at the same time wish to appear modest. Trent says, “No, I think you’re a 3.” Really? Who says that to a kid? Who says that to ANYONE? As you can see, this is a role that Carrell has never really played before, a real jerk.
Also in the car is Duncan’s mom, Pam (Colette) and Trent’s daughter who is just a spoiled brat. Trent is Pam’s boyfriend of over a year. Duncan is quite upset that he must spend this summer with his mom’s new boyfriend and his brat daughter at their beach house instead of with his dad and his new girlfriend in San Diego. Duncan is quite shy and going through his awkward stage of life, but still a sweet, smart, good kid.
When they get to the beach house, we are introduced to Betty (Janney), a cougar-tastic lush who likes to air out her dirty laundry to everyone. We are also introduced to two of her kids: her oldest daughter, Susanna (Robb) and her younger son Peter. Betty makes fun of Peter the whole film for having a lazy eye, even making him wear an eye-patch at one point because his lazy eye “confuses people.” What a great mother she is. Then we meet Trent’s best friends Kip and Joan, who are also lushes. Susanna later says to Trent, “This place is terrible. It’s like spring break for parents.” Well said, Susanna, well said.
After a night of drinking, pot, and sex Pam sleeps in and leaves Duncan some cash to find some food in town. Trent finds a little girl’s bike (complete with pink basket and streamers on the handlebars) to ride into town. He stops at a pizza parlor, and in the back meets funny man Owen (Rockwell). Can I be honest? I have a HUGE crush on Sam Rockwell. I’m not sure if it’s because he plays charming scumbags, like in Charlie’s Angels or Choke, or if its because he dances in nearly every movie. And I don’t mean dorky, cute teddy bear Seth Rogan dancing, I mean smooth as silk Motown-esque, hip hop dancing. Anyways, Owen manages the local water park, Water Wizz. He’s that stereotypical adult who doesn’t have his stuff together, but is far more wise than the adults who do have their “so-called” lives together. Wish it was that way in real life… I would be like a friggin’ Dumbledore!
Eventually, Duncan finds himself employed at Water Wizz along with Caitlin (Rudolph), who has a fun little love-hate, crush-like relationship with Owen, Roddy (Fixon), and Lewis (Rash). Yes, Fixon and Rash wrote, directed, and acted in this film. The two best buds graduated/performed at Groundlings in LA, along with Rudolf. Also, the two are Academy Award winners for their script, The Descendants starring George Clooney.
Duncan starts to find himself and his confidence working odd jobs at the water park, eventually donning the nickname “Pop and Lock,” for his silly stint with some break dancers. He makes friends, money, and learns about life from Owen. Meanwhile, back at the beach house, things are not going well for Pam and Trent. At a cookout, Duncan sees Trent canoodling with Joan. Pam suspects and confronts Trent, but of course he denies everything.
The whole story comes to a head at the Fourth of July party where Duncan finally finds the voice to stand up to Trent for himself and his mother. Sadly, Pam just defends Trent, and so of course Duncan runs away, with sweet, little, lazy- eyed Peter to Water Wizz. They happen upon a going away party for Lewis. The two boys pull an all-nighter with the whole water park gang. At sunrise, Owen tells Duncan that he needs to go home. Duncan breaks down and tells Owen all about Trent. And of course Owen gives Duncan some great advice about life (as is standard now in these films). There’s that one line that everybody puts on their Facebook wall (heck, I have them, too) because it’s a line that is said quite crudely but gives such clarity. In Juno theres, “The right person is still going to think the sun shines out your ass.” Or in Little Miss Sunshine, “Do what you love. $^@* the rest.” In The Way Way Back, it’s Owen’s line, “I don’t like patterns or rules or sh!t. You gotta go your own way. So, go your own way.”
Sadly, Duncan’s summer is cut short when Pam decides that everyone is leaving the beach house… Trent and bratty daughter included. Of course, Duncan pitches a fit, not only because he has to leave the place where he’s found himself, but also because they are leaving with Trent’s family. But don’t worry, this movie does end on a redeeming note.
The performances were really great, but I never had my doubts about that for a second. My favorite (even though Colette is my hero and Janney is without a doubt one of the funniest women out there) has to be Rockwell. Yeah, part of it is because I think that he is one of the sexiest men in Hollywood, but it’s also because I loved his character and his portrayal. He brought a certain quick, yet dumb witted presence that normally would be signature Bill Murray. Owen is at surface level an egotistical, lazy, man child who thinks that life is one big punchline, but you really see through his friendship with Duncan, that Owen is a man stuck in a rut, and at heart who wants to do right by the people he cares about.
My only complaints are the predictability of the story and Carrell. I was expecting the plot with the same ol’ twists and turns as Little Miss Sunshine, but I was really hoping that Carrell would hit this one out of the park. I don’t know… maybe I just don’t believe Carrell as a jerk. I know the directors were trying to make Trent a more well-rounded character and were casting against type, but I’m just not sure if Carrell did it. He felt stiff. He felt heartless, and if I’ve learned anything from Disney, it’s that every good villain needs a lot of heart to make them believable. All in all, a good movie that made me laugh out loud several times with a mostly fantastical cast, but it didn’t rock my world. I can see why this one didn’t stay at the theaters for too long.
The video is good. I honestly don’t see why they released this movie in Blu-Ray. There’s nothing big and beautiful to see. The performances are the thing to marvel at, not the sights. They shot this on a New England beach, and they did capture everything pretty well… especially the little coastal town feeling. Those tourist towns are so funny because they are pretty much ghost towns during the winter, but everything and more during the summers (rather like some coastal towns in Florida). All in all, video was good.
Nothing to write home about. And since this was an indie film, of course you had to have the extreme indie music… which in excess can drive me up a wall. At the end, when the two families are driving back from the beach there are two different scenes where everyone’s silent in the car with indie music in the background. Once before Duncan escapes to Water Wizz to say goodbye to everyone, and once after he escapes. REALLY? Did we really need two of those? If I see another one of these scenes, I will scream. Be creative… think of something different to put there, please. But, no pops, no scratches, just good audio.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The packaging is very standard for a Blu Ray. It comes in a cardboard sleeve with a standard Blu Ray case inside. Brightly colored, good artwork, nice pictures, and a good synopsis on the back. The bonus features are nice, but I was expecting a LOT more, considering it’s a Blu Ray, and there’s more room for way more stuff. You do get an UltraViolet Digital HD copy for your other electronic devices, which I think is a grand idea for all Blu Ray discs, since I watch a lot of my movies on my IPad/Laptop. You also get deleted scenes, The Making of the Way, Way Back, and other behind-the-scenes featurettes. These were nice, but just ok. I loved any time where the directors/writers would be interacting with each other. They are like brothers, playfully poking at each other and sharing in their mad process to making this film. I also enjoyed the Ensemble Featurette, where all of the actors talked about their experiences on the film and what inspired them during the process.
Overall (Not an Average)
Meh… that’s how I feel about this film. There are some parts that I really love, but then they are cancelled out by super cliche moments in the film. It’s a good coming of age story, but I just feel that it’s been told again, and again, and again, and again… just with different settings and slightly different characters. I suppose if this film had come out before Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, and all of those other movies, I would think it was brilliant. And so, I’ll just keep on the sunny side and choose to revel in Rockwell’s fantastical Water Park Manager portrayal… and his little dance solo.