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even my henchmen think I’m crazy | by maryann johanson

The Way, Way Back review: how to escape from your family

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The Way Way Back green light Liam James Sam Rockwell

One of the more achingly poignant stories of awkward (male) adolescence I’ve seen, and one of the best movies of 2013 (so far). Sam Rockwell steals this movie more than he has ever stolen a movie before.
I’m “biast” (pro): love the cast

I’m “biast” (con): getting really tired of teen boys’ coming-of-age stories

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I won’t deny that when I first heard about this flick and saw the trailer, my first thought was, Really? Another movie about a shy, gawky, angsty teen boy who triumphantly overcomes his lack of a hot blonde girlfriend?

But I’m glad to say that I loved The Way, Way Back — it’s one of the more achingly poignant stories of awkward (male) adolescence I’ve seen, and one of the best movies of 2013 (so far). Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who both appear in small roles here and previously contributed to the marvelous screenplay for The Descendants), this is their directorial debut… and their job as filmmakers was about 75 percent done once they’d assembled their incredible cast and let them loose on their lovely script, with its clear-eyed perspective on how the awfulness of trying to figure out who you are as an adolescent isn’t helped when all the grownups around you are such a mess themselves.

What does the title mean? It’s a bit of a mystery… but it could refer to the penchant of 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James: 2012, Fred Claus) to escape to the way, way back of the old-fashioned station wagon, to the seat that faces backward out the rear of the car, to not have to cope with his family. (This scenario opens the film, and the film will return to it, poignantly, in the end.) For Duncan is subject to constant emotional abuse under the withering glare and cutting words of Trent, his mother’s boyfriend; he’s one of those assholes who thinks being mean is good for bucking up a young man. I’ve never seen Steve Carell (Despicable Me 2, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) play so sharply unpleasant a character before, and I loved hating him here. Mom Pam is apparently so terrified of being alone that she doesn’t even notice Trent’s abuse; Toni Collette (Fright Night, Tsunami: The Aftermath) is so believable as wounded and fragile and needy. Their neighbors at Trent’s Cape Cod beach house, where they’re spending the summer — yes, this is all about the travails of rich white people — are friendly drunk Betty (Allison Janney [The Oranges, The Help], always a goddess of wit and spirit) and her bored daughter, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb [Race to Witch Mountain, Jumper], on her way to becoming a goddess), who rolls her eyes at the “spring break for adults” everyone around her and Duncan are enjoying while they suffer.

Ah, but Duncan escapes to a secret job at a nearby water park, where he befriends managers Owen (Sam Rockwell: Seven Psychopaths, Cowboys & Aliens) and Caitlin (Maya Rudolph: Grown Ups 2, Friends with Kids). Now, this entire cast — which also includes Rob Corddry (Pain and Gain, Warm Bodies) and Amanda Peet (Identity Thief, Gulliver’s Travels) — is amazing, as always, but when I tell you that Sam Rockwell steals this movie, as a wiseacre whose humor is covering up his own pain, you will surely nod and say, “Well, of course. Sam Rockwell steals every movie he’s in.” But no: Rockwell here is far beyond other-movie-Rockwell on the awesome scale as other-movie-Rockwell usually is from everyone else around him.

I’m not sure anyone has ever stolen a movie the way Rockwell does here, certainly not from such very worthy fellow actors. That the movie was already so damn smart and funny and wise before he even showed up makes his win here all the more astonishing.

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Region 1
release date:

Oct 22 2013
Amazon US DVD
Amazon US VOD
Amazon Can DVD
Region 2
release date:

Dec 26 2013
Amazon UK DVD
US/Canada release date: Jul 5 2013 | UK release date: Aug 28 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated TBCoA(A) (contains teen boy’s coming-of-age, again)
MPAA: rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material
BBFC: rated 12A (contains one use of strong language and moderate sex and drug references)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes
  • RogerBW

    Another one which turned out way, way better than its trailer gave one any right to hope. I think I should probably just give up watching the things; they are clearly intended to appeal to people other than me.

  • Bluejay

    Glad to read this. I loved The Descendants, and I’m a fan of Jim Rash’s work on Community — both as an actor (his flamboyant and secretly hurting Dean Pelton is one of the best things about the show) and as a writer (his “Basic Human Anatomy” was one of the few bright spots in the subpar fourth season). And Carell is a more versatile actor than he’s often given credit for; there were moments in The Office when he dropped the doofus act and just glowered, and you could tell he could play a really mean sonofabitch if he wanted to. I’m glad he gets to show off more of his acting skills here.

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