Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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The Way Way Back

Film #341


Over the course of his summer break, a teenager comes into his own thanks in part to the friendship he strikes up with one of the park’s managers.

Year 1, Day 341

BEFORE: Yes, three advanced screenings in one week. And even having to arrive later than usual (read: still an hour and a half before the film starts) isn’t proving to be a problem as attendance has been low this week. Today features The Way Way Back, another comedy-drama starring Steve Carell who makes his seventh appearance in the movie marathon.

AFTER: This has been a week of upcoming releases but it has also been a week of films that have spoken to me. I’m not just sitting in my seat laughing or feeling for these characters, I’m also left thinking about my actual life and how this all relates. On Saturday I referenced this comic about how a lot of powerful lines in popular media might be just a farce. Whether true or not (or applicable or not) the important thing is whether or not it delivers results, and for me, The Way Way Back struck a chord that had me engaged and entertained throughout.

Let’s start with the premise and work from there. An extremely lonely teenager, Duncan (Liam James) is forced to spend the summer with his mom (Toni Collette) at her boyfriend Trent’s (Steve Carell) summer house. Both his mom and Trent are divorcees and Duncan is often left by himself while others are having all the fun. Duncan goes through many tough situations as a result but is aided by local Owen (Sam Rockwell) who offers him a job at Water Wizz. Similarly to The Kings of Summer, it’s not so much that I directly related with this film and the characters, but looking at it in a broader sense it felt oddly relevant.

Much praise should be given to another extraordinary cast who, through their performances, make this film seem as if it is based off a true story. Most surprising to me was Steve Carell’s performance as the colossal asshole to everyone around him. It’s surprising because it’s unlike anything I’ve seen from Carell before who typically plays the sweet and likable guys. To have him do an equally fantastic job as the opposite was quite impressive. Special mention must also be given to Liam James and Sam Rockwell, both of whom make the perfect friendship. Each of them builds off each other to improve upon their weaknesses. Duncan learns to be more vocal and stand up for himself whereas Owen learns to calm down a bit and take responsibility for things. The ease at which James and Rockwell not only play their characters at the start, but the effortless and smooth transition to who they are at the end is astonishing.

As I said, the acting helps sell this film and make it believable. But it also makes it highly entertaining. Laughter is aplenty (this has been a really funny week) and most of it isn’t one-liner, pre-written stuff. Obviously it’s pre-written, but it’s not like the jokes on the nighttime talk shows - it’s the result of the characters; who they are and the situations they are placed in. Just knowing who these people are, what’s expected and more importantly what’s unexpected, make scenes funny. There’s no need for gimmes (although there are a few at Water Wizz - I believe they’re also in the trailer). Entertainment isn’t just about laughter though, The Way Way Back is also entertaining in a dramatic sense. Especially Duncan and his relationship with his mom, this and other moments in the film make you stop laughing and make you feel for these characters. It shows you the serious side and how there can be bad with the good.

We come to the end yet again where I reveal the number of stars. This is another tough one that I’ve been going back and forth with about. These T rides home are giving me time to think and digest what I’ve seen instead of immediately churning out my thoughts. Without a doubt this is a highly entertaining, and relatable, film. There were some questionable parts, mostly relying on the supporting characters like Steph (Zoe Levin), Kip (Rob Corddry), and Joan (Amanda Peet), and how they are more generic stereotypical film characters. And it was issues with this that had me decreasing the stars for quite a while. But, in the end, I’m deciding to ignore the minor issues this film had and go with a full five. While nowhere near as good as the aforementioned The Kings of Summer (really, everyone should see that movie), it still does a fantastic job of making you laugh, feel, and think. There are many different things to like about this film and it will appeal to a wide variety. I described what made it great for me but the best part is, there’s a whole host of different ways it can be great for you.

The Way Way Back opens in theaters on July 5, 2013.

RATING: 5 out of 5