REVIEW: The Way Way Back

4 08 2013

Two years ago, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash stood on stage at the Academy Awards behind Alexander Payne as he delivered the majority of their acceptance speech for writing “The Descendants.” While Payne waxed poetic to millions of people, Faxon and Rash drew the attention of the cameramen through a bizarre stunt – mocking Angelina Jolie’s flaunting of her flawless leg as it protruded out of her dress that very night.

As soon as I saw that, I thought to myself that they must have provided the humor in “The Descendants,” and the tragedy and drama came courtesy of Alexander Payne. But after seeing Faxon and Rash’s directorial debut “The Way Way Back,” which they also wrote together, I’m not so sure my assumption was correct. The dynamic duo crafted a truly heartfelt and genuine film that is equal parts uproarious comedy and poignant drama. Not a moment in the movie feels false as everything hits home just by being honest.

The film might not be the most original as it is a fairly typical entry into the coming-of-age sub genre. The protagonist, Duncan, is a shy turtle of a 14-year-old boy headed for a summer at the beach with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her new jerk of a boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Both of them struggle to fit into Trent’s pre-existing world, although Pam has no escape. Duncan manages to find a surrogate family for the summer at the Water Wizz water park under the tutelage of the quick-witted Owen (Sam Rockwell).

The Way Way Back

Yet where the film might lack in ingenuity, it overflows in heart. “The Way Way Back” is full of wisdom, which so often comes at surprising moments – just as it does in life. When Faxon and Rash choose to impart their understanding of the human condition, it is wholeheartedly effective because it is conveyed to us through fully realized characters. It also helps that they have a top-notch cast to highlight these nuances, with best in show going to Sam Rockwell’s tenderly observed Owen and Toni Collette’s quietly heartbreaking Pam. (Honorable mention goes to the absolute laugh riot Betty, an alcoholic divorceé brought vividly to life by the inimitable Allison Janney.)

Without casting a judging eye, Faxon and Rash show us how hard it is to achieve maturity as an adolescent when so few adults around you have. “The Way Way Back” is a reminder of how our lives are populated by complex people, each making decisions that often times don’t entirely make sense to themselves. And when artists acknowledge these basic truths about our nature, great art that penetrates the heart and mind can be created.  B+3stars

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