Every once in a while during the summer blockbuster season we find a hidden gem that shines brighter than all the big budget summer films. A movie that is very simple, but sticks with you longer because it’s so relatable to the life you lead. Napoleon Dynamite, 500 Days of Summer and Little Miss Sunshine are all prime examples of indie films that managed to stand out in the busy summer crowd. This year’s pearl in the sea of superheroes, robots and cartoons is The Way, Way Back.
The Way, Way Back was written and directed by the duo of Nat Faxson and Jim Rash who cowrote The Descendants. Just like The Descendants, The Way, Way Back takes a look at the realistic relationships people have with each other, whether it be family or friends. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but you can relate. Duncan (Liam James) is a 14-year-old boy forced to spend the summer at his mother’s boyfriend’s beach house. Steve Carell takes on a different role we are accustomed to seeing him play as Trent, the condescending jerk who wants to put a wedge between Duncan and his mother (Toni Collette). Duncan finds a way escape Trent’s mental bullying by befriending a neighbor played by Ann Sophia Robb (The Carrie Diaries) and working at a rundown water park called Water Wizz.
Most people have gone on a summer vacation they didn’t want to go on, but by the end they didn’t want to leave. You make new friends and create a connections with strangers who most likely you will never see again. The Way, Way Back perfectly captures the process of becoming someone new, in a place where no one knows you. People act different when they are on vacation no matter what age they are. In some ways the teens of The Way, Way Back are actually more responsible than their inebriated parents. It makes for some laughs, but there is also some sadness to the dumb decisions the partying parents make.
Without a doubt, the highlight of The Way, Way Back is the performance of Sam Rockwell as Owen. Owen is a townie and the Manager of Water Wizz who befriends the lonely Duncan. Owen is so cool from a teen’s perspective, but the adult viewers know he’s a mess. He’s a 40 year-old man living and working in a water park. But Rockwell’s performance makes you love Owen and want to hang out with him all summer. Duncan gains confidence and a unique friendship with Owen and it makes The Way, Way Back a special experience at the movies this summer. Rockwell has always been a superb actor, but never really gained the credit and fame he deserved. After this performance, don’t be surprised if an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor is in his future.
The Way, Way Back is without a doubt the most enjoyable and best film I’ve seen all year. The film gives us a look at everyday life with the warts and all. The Way, Way Back has a familiar vibe where you could see yourself in the characters shoes. The ending doesn’t have the nice bow on top where everything is tied together perfectly, but you still feel good about the conclusion by the time the credits roll. Even if your heart does break a little from the actors’ performances. Overall, I give The Way, Way Back 3.5 out of 4 potatoes.
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