The Way Way Back – 3/5 – Movie Reviews by Ry!

way wayThe Way Way Back – 3/5 – Small, indie films; out of all the different kinds of genre out there, these are the ones I enjoy to the most.  The reason that indie films pull me in is because of the genuine feel that are developed within the context of the story.  With that feel, it develops a relative connection between the audience and the actual characters.  Because of this, indie films will always be at the top of my go to list to see at the theaters.  Even though they are at the top of the list, that doesn’t always mean they will be great films.  This film is one of those indie flicks that, even with a great premise and sometimes charming characters and story, the disjointed connection of the drama and comedy causes the overall tone to fall flat.  The Way Way Back is a film that will appeal to some, but seem boring for many.

Premise:  It is another summer, and 14-year-old Duncan vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and his daughter. He is having a rough time fitting in with this new group of people, so Duncan decides to venture off.  What he finds is an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park.   What ensues is a path of forbearance, and a place where Duncan might actually be able to show, who he really is as a person.

In the role of the main 14 year-old character Duncan, is young actor Liam James.  As Duncan, he gives us a common teenager that is lost in translation.  He is on this summer trip with his mom and crew, confused, angry and somewhat distance from everyone at the beach house.  In this separate anxiety mentality, he provides us with a layered individual, who is awkward around normalcy, and tends to be very close minded with his thoughts.  Even these characteristics  helps bring an individualistic aura to the Duncan character, at times throughout the film, James over acts this ‘awkwardness’, making the film feel strange and sometimes unappealing.  For the most poignant moments, he brings forth raw emotions, and helps creates situations that are relatable.  In the supporting roles as the people he spends vacation with is his mother Pam (Toni Collete), her boyfriend/soon to be father-in-law Trent (Steve Carell), his daugther Laura (Devon Werden), and friends of Trent Kip (Rob Corddry), Joan (Amanda Peet), Betty (Allison Janney) and her daughter and slight love interest Susanna (Anna Sophia Robb).  With this much talent, you would expect some decent acting.  For the most of the film, they provide ‘down to earth’ characters.  As the film gets into the deeper themes, their portrayal turns into cliché archetypes of standard dramatic films.  The mother turns in the aloof submissive woman, Trent is the typical asshole ‘father figure’, the friends are ‘side show’, and the daughter becomes the stereotypical ‘self center’ teenager.  Even with these overplayed types, two of them standout.  These would be Betty and Susanna.  Allison Janney provides a fun, witty but verbose woman in Betty, who is both random with her interaction\dialogue, and heartfelt when the serious drama happens.  The young daughter Susanna is someone that has layers comparable to Duncan’s.  She is part of a family where the ‘father’ left, and is facing (internally) with confusion and loneliness.  With this, a subtle connection develops between the two, as it helps to combat the awkwardness and bring forth a truer Duncan, as well as bring her character down to a more mature accepting role.  Outside of the family drama aspect, there is another part of the movie that deals with the waterpark employees.  This is where the film shines the most with the acting.  Here, we have the person who runs the park Owen (Sam Rockwell), and his fellow employees Caitlin (Maya Rudolph), Roddy (Nat Faxon) and Lewis (Jim Rash).  As Owen, he leads a cast of fun, loving but comical individuals, who live life free spirited, and enjoy every minute of it.  Sam Rockwell is the star of this cast, as he’s hilarious in his interaction with everyone at the park, including Duncan, but also is firm and wise with his dialogue.  There is double meaning to his sarcasm, but there is enjoyment in his randomness.  This commandment when he is on screen is due to the personality he creates with Owen, and the deep charisma he provides on screen.  His character just brings a bright light Duncan’s morbid situation.  The other three fill in more as ‘sidekicks’ to Owen in the park, but they do enough to add depth to his perception of the world, but also provides the candid tone that you expect in a film like this.

The direction of the film is a hodge podge of themes/tones, with a mixture of drama/family issues with a subtle touch of a ‘coming of age’ comedy.  The mixture of these are usually a great combination, but the film can never link both sides cohesively, leaving each plot lines to feel more like set piece scenarios, linked only by the main character Duncan.  In the beginning, we watch as the four (Duncan, Trent, Laura and Pam) arrive at the beach house.  It seems like a pleasant getaway, but as the film continues through its first act, you gradually learn that Duncan is an ‘outcast’ to the rest of the group, including the friends that pop in and out at their cottage.  In this first act, we are introduce to themes of adolescence, abandonment and acceptance.  Most of these themes intertwines with Duncan, as you watch it through his awkwardness towards everyone.  The uneasy connection he has is a little cringing, but it helps creates the atmosphere of generalities, and shows the initial conflict Duncan has; a deep resentment for life’s current situation.  He doesn’t like the new guy his mom is dating, and misses his father.  As this drama ensues, we are then introduced to the waterpark cast, when Duncan goes off on his own and runs into Owen in crew.  Here, we are introduced to the coming of age theme/plot line, as you watch as the whimsical interactions Duncan has with this group of people helps break his ‘shell’, as he seems to find a place among the misfits at the waterpark.  As the film moves pass the introduction, and weaves both the drama at home and the comedy that happens at the waterpark, you follow along with the two plot lines but the direction never seems to bring a connection between both; except for Duncan is involved.  As the film progresses, you realize that there is an emotional disconnect between both parts of Duncan’s situations (The Beach House drama and Waterpark employment).  This is caused by the separation created by the direction.  There is too much competition between the two lines where there should be a molding of the two (because they involve the main character).  These causes you to never find a true attachable thread to either side.  The lasting affects is that the most poignant moments tend to feel boring, and the dire situations become predictable.  What keeps you in the film is watching the complexities of Duncan’s personality, as he is trying to find himself, even when he feel’s lost in this part of his life.  This is also helped by the side ‘love story’ he has with Susanna, as her character helps pry into the layers of Duncan, as her own family issues connect with his.  These moments helps unveil his true nature, causing it to be very moving.  This singular thread eventually helps create a reason to continuing watching the rest of the film.  Once things converge in the climax, Duncan begins to learn about himself, with the help of some ‘monologue’ comments from Owen, and see’s what kind of person he should be.  The climax is both ‘down the earth’ and underwhelming, but it is as great of a conclusion you will get for a film that has a lack there of feeling throughout majority of its running time.

The visuals of the film helps create a very familiar kind of setting for the audience.  This is created through the use of a typical beach town and small waterpark.  Through common places, you watch as the actors on screen as normal people, with real life drama that you can relate to.  There isn’t anything extravagant here, but being an indie flick, it isn’t as important.  The score of the film adds flavor to the simplistic tone of the film, but just enough to make the film move methodically, but soothing at the same time.

Overall, The Way Way Back is a good indie flick, but because of few acting choices and directional mishaps, it is not great.  The story of ‘finding yourself’ might be a redundant one, but it’s still decently portrayed in the film, even with the films shortcomings.  For fans of indie flick, or if you want to see a decent film with family, this is one for you.

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