The Way, Way Back

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Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash.
Screenplay: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash.
Starring: Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrel, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, River Alexander, Zoe Levin, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash.

I’m afraid I’m gonna have to ask you to leave!… You’re having way to much fun. It’s making everyone uncomfortable“.

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash may be familiar to some but they haven’t really been household names over the course of their careers. They are both sometime, bit-part, performers having appeared in numerous TV shows but it wasn’t until 2011 that they earned some well-deserved attention by winning an Oscar for their screenwriting duties on Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants“. Now, they turn their hand to directing and it’s apparent that they’re just as comfortable when calling the shots themselves.

Pam (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) are on a summer holiday with his daughter and her son Duncan (Liam James). Duncan is a shy awkward teenager who has trouble adapting to his new “family”. As he struggles to fit in, he eventually finds a friend in man-child Owen (Sam Rockwell) who gives him a job on the local water park and also some good advice on life itself.

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As the film opens we are introduced to our young protagonist who’s been relegated to the rear of the family station wagon. This is known as “the way back seat” and also serves us with the reason to the film’s title. This symbolic status is pretty much how the young man has been throughout his awkward teenage years and having his mother’s obnoxious boyfriend talk down to him doesn’t help matters. Straight away we feel for his plight and it’s this very sympathy that drives the film.

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On the surface, it shares striking similarities to Greg Mottola’s 2009 film “Adventureland“, in terms of a coming-of-age story set around a summer job on a theme park, but that’s where the comparisons end. Where that film revelled in teenage schmaltz and contrivance, this has an actual beating heart under the surface and benefits from a sharp wit and a perfectly pitched poignancy. On the evidence here, it also shows that co-writer/directors Faxon and Rash have a keen sense of both adolescence and adulthood and that “The Descendants” was no fluke in applying them both. Their characters are well observed and beautifully played by all involved; although it’s nothing new for her, Collette delivers her usual reliability while Carell (who I’m not normally a fan of) underplays his role to perfection and does well to leave his comedic chops to the side and allow others to take over. Young Liam James is entirely convincing in balancing the requisite resentment and sullenness of an introverted 14 year-old without ever losing your sympathy and the wonderfully talented, and vastly underrated, Allison Janney delivers her gregarious and borderline alcoholic, single mother, with aplomb. It’s her quick-fire deliveries that keep the film on comfortable ground through some periodic lulls until, the always excellent, Sam Rockwell makes an appearance. Rockwell has never given a poor performance in my eyes but rarely has he ever stolen the show like he does here. The screen is almost not big enough to contain his charisma and superb comic timing (a lot of which was apparently improvised). As good as the entire cast are, though, a lot of credit has to be given to Faxon and Rash for their engaging writing. The laughs are consistent and never feel forced while it’s sentimentality is in equally good measure. It’s testament to them that a film that really should’ve came across as formulaic and contrived, simply doesn’t. It comes across as fresh, honest and, more importantly, thoroughly enjoyable.

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Not only reuniting Carell and Collette from “Little Miss Sunshine“, this is also a reminder of that film’s balance of humour and pathos and captures the same human frailty and ability to overcome.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: In order to save money, the filmmakers decided to not get trailers for the actors, and instead decided to rent a house for the duration of filming (approx. 6 weeks), where the actors could go between takes. The house turned into a popular hangout spot for the cast and crew, and they would often go to the house even during weekends or days off.

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55 Responses to “The Way, Way Back”

  1. I kinda feel like everybody loves Sam Rockwell. Great review and if I ever stumble across this, I’ll definitely give it a watch – I loved The Descendants a lot for the screenplay, so glad to hear these guys are out and about and good at it.

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    • What’s not to like about Rockwell, I say. 😉 He’s great in everything he does and this is another outstanding performance from him. You should check it out, it wonderful little film. Thanks Elina.

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  2. Good review. This one definitely plays laughs and sadness off of each other with impeccable timing. I wish it had developed Trent with more balance, though.

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    • Thanks man. I thought the timing was spot on too. I couldn’t complain about Trent’s character, though. I normally don’t take to Carrel but I thought he done great here. For the most part, it seemed like he was trying to help but the more his character developed, it was obvious he was an asshole.

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  3. Nice review. Really eager to check this out since I’m a big fan of Carrell and Jim Rash.

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    • Thanks man. It’s certainly worth a watch. The main draw for me was Rockwell and I’m always keen on Allison Janney who is wonderful here. I have to say, though, not being a fan of Carrel’s, it was good to see him do something different.

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  4. Everybody in this cast seemed like they were having the time of their lives which, as a result, made me feel the same way. Especially with Rockwell stealing the show with every line he had to deliver, like usual. Good review Mark.

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    • Cheers Dan. Couldn’t agree more, mate. Everybody was great and for a while it was Allison Janney that was stealing the show until Rockwell turned out. Great entertainment all round.

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  5. Sam Rockwell is a top notch actor, never heard of this film prior to reading the review, the fact it’s by the combo behind “The Descendants has peaked my interest.

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    • It’s a great wee film Chris and Rockwell is superb. He’s a real favourite of mine. The fact that it’s the guys behind The Descendants is good enough reason to look it up. I loved it.

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  6. Good work, Muckers – probably not one I’ll se anytime soon. Most likely when it’s free I’ll watch it with the old lady.

    Boat Drinks!

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  7. Good review, Mark. I thought this was a nice little movie myself. 🙂

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  8. Solid review bro. I really need to see this. It’s been on my list since it came out and I really have no excuse.

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  9. Great review Mark! I might watch this in the next couple of weeks, love the cast, I mean Rockwell, Carell, Toni Collette, those are solid actors! Rockwell is such a scene stealer, love him.

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    • Thanks Ruth. The cast is impressive on paper and equally impressive on screen. Like you say, though, Rockwell steals every scene he’s in. Allison Janney does likewise from her end too, though.

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  10. The way you worded and summed up Rockwell’s performance is dead-on, excellent review my friend. I love this flick, easily one of the best of the year thus far!

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  11. Great review pal. I loved this, the performances were spot on and the writing was tight and kept things really simple. A real surprise hit this one.

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    • Cheers Matey! Definitely one of the biggest surprises. I expected it to be half-decent but really didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. Performance wise, nobody put a foot wrong but it was hard for anyone to steal it from Rockwell.

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  12. Such a lovely movie. I had a smile on my face almost the whole way through and Rockwell’s performance is effortless. Great work on this one Mark.

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    • Cheers Mark. I was the same. I was very pleasantly surprised that it kept the laughs coming. The humour never ran out of steam and that’s not an easy thing to do. As everyone seems to be in agreement on… Rockwell was superb!

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  13. Great review Mark. I should really just get to checking this out. I am glad to hear that Carell was not such a tool in here, I really am not a fan of his.

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  14. Saw this a few weeks back and even I’d got steady vibes of Adventureland. I connected more with Adventureland than this one…maybe because I am way past my 14 year mark. Nonetheless its a perfectly enjoyable one. Kudos for Sam Rockwell & Liam! Good write up.

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    • I really wasn’t a fan of Adventureland to be honest. Even though the character was older I found its vibe too adolescent. With this though, I found it was more adult due to the supporting characters around the young protagonist. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

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  15. Great review. Sam Rockwell is just fantastic here, although he’s always great isn’t he?
    As for the film, The Way Way Back is crippled from the start by a character I didn’t want to spend any time with. Even when they bring him out of his shell there wasn’t anything there for me to care about thanks to that dreadful combination of poor writing and poorer performance. Give me a movie about Rockwell’s character and there’s something I would be interested in, but as much as he soars the rest of this film utterly sinks.

    I did enjoy Toni Collette and Allison Janney in it too.

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    • I actually found the little guy quite appealing and I thought the young fella performed well. There’s no doubt that it’s Rockwell who lifts it to new heights though. It probably wouldn’t have worked as well without him. Thanks for dropping in 🙂

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  16. […] The Way, Way Back is looking like a fantastic film judging by  reviews from Shane and Mark. […]

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  17. Great review. This has became one of my favorite releases this year because of the cast and the writing. I thought that Liam James was a natural in the role. I quite enjoyed Sam Rockwell’s performance as well.

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    • Thanks! I couldn’t agree more. Young Liam James was perfect in the role and his melancholia was offset brilliantly by the verve and enthusiasm of Rockwell. Such a little treat.

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  18. Great review! I just reviewed this recently too as I managed to catch it in the cinema a few weeks ago. So glad I did! Absolutely loved it – my second favorite film this year (after Rush). I wish there were more films like this…

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    • I’ve yet to see Rush but I’d include this amongst the biggest surprises of the year. I’m not sure if I’d include it in my top ten yet. It’s unlikely but it’s still worthy of some attention.

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  19. Great review, Mark, glad you dug this. You’re spot on about Rockwell — he was in top form here.

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  20. So glad you liked this film, Mark. It’s sitting #1 on my list of the year right now.

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  21. Great review Mark, looks like a promising movie.

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  22. Top work man, I love that you love it as much as I did!!! Cast was fantastic, the writing phenomenal and my god is Jim Rash hilarious and hilarious looking in this movie for the brief bit he’s got!!! I rarely buy DVD’s anymore since Netflix is so great, but this one is added to the pile for sure when it’s out! 😀

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