Skip to main content

It’s like spring break for adults.

The Way Way Back
(2013)

Steve Carrell was on the money when he said the quality that attracted to him in The Way Way Back was similar to the one he saw in Little Miss Sunshine. Both are immensely likeable feel-good indie movies, strong on quirky characterisation and relatable insights but also equipped with a slightly superficial fantasy uplift element in their depiction of protagonists overcoming trials and tribulations. This kind of fare follows something of an indie dramedy template and The Way Way Back is well observed, unintrusively directed and populated by some wonderful performances. But it’s also a wee-bit over-recognisable.


Co-writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have successful dual careers as comedy performers, and their writing partnership stems from performing together at comedy club The Groundlings.  The script for The Way Way Back had been kicking around since the mid ‘00s, but only finally went into production following the kudos and Oscar they received for adapting The Descendants with Alexander Payne. Payne is hard to beat with this kind of laugh/cry material, although he hasn’t really tapped the coming of age tale (that’s not really Election). Perhaps he knows how difficult it is to make a distinct mark on such stories; it would be easy to shower The Way Way Back with plaudits, yet it still feels like just another entry in a well-worn genre, complete with a summer park hearkening back to more louche ‘80s movies (tellingly, it was originally set in 1984). And Adventureland (although The Way Way Back is way better).


Duncan (Liam James) is an inexpressive and reserved teenager required to attend a Cape Cod summer break with his mother (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) and Trent’s daughter Steph (Zoe Levin).  He would much rather spend time with his dad, but is instead stuck with an a prick of a patriarchal figure (Carrell on sterling unsympathetic form) and a not-sister who can barely tolerate the sight of him (and who heaps abuse on him when in the company of her friends). Mum Pam is sympathetic, but she’s trying to fit into Trent’s world and with his loud and uncouth friends (Allison Janney as sousy gossip Bettty, Rob Corddry and Amand Peet as couple Kip and Joan). During the trip to there, he’s also had to content with Trent informing him he is a “3” on a scale of 1 to 10, which pretty much tells us all we need to know about Trent.


It’s a bleak set up, and we can feel Duncan’s desire to just want to crawl under a rock and die, beset by inherent adolescent awkwardness and quite awful adult company. James excels at tongue-tied discomfort, which means the movie doesn’t have to rely solely on the more experienced supporting performers to carry it. Eventually Duncan carves out his own niche and comfort zone, when the manager of the local water park Owen (Sam Rockwell, exuding charisma levels on a part with the average Sam Rockwell performance) takes him under his wing. Invited into this company (which includes Faxon and Rash who are both effortlessly funny, particularly Rash as the balding and beleaguered lost property guy, and Maya Rudolph as Caitlyn, Owen’s possibly maybe). There is also Betty’s daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb, currently in Sex and the City prequel The Carrie Diaries, but who has been giving note perfect performances ever since Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), the older girl willing to given Duncan the time of day and on whom he develops a crush.


As such, this strays into fantasy territory unfamiliar to the typical introverted teenager; the coolest, most outgoing guy (Owen) in town for some reason takes to you; the more mature girl actually has time for you (most unlikely of all is her “You just surprised me” when she recounts why she recoiled from his attempts to kiss her); it’s wish-fulfilment confectionary with an indie tag, and recognisable names flock to it as it offers a bit of character meat and substance in contrast to the big budget bill-payers. The Way Way Back is warm-hearted and breezy, but it’s also quite shameless in milking its audience (just like Oscar darling Little Miss Sunshine; this, as essentially a teen angst movie, was unlikely to reach the same level of exposure).


Carrell, Rockwell and Janney have the showiest roles, and they just need to be wound up and let loose (I was surprised to hear Rockwell say this kind of spontaneity doesn’t come naturally, as it’s the way I typically imagine him from his roles; he also said he was channelling Bill Murray in Meatballs). Carrell in particular, can’t be underpraised for essaying an unreconstituted prick.  Corddry and Peet don’t get much to do other than behave coarsely, Rudolph is at her most sympathetically lovable, while River Alexander, as Betty’s other offspring Peter, is sure to win a rash of exhuberant child parts on the back of this (the sequence in which Owen admires Peter’s eye patch is a particularly rich exchange, where Alexander actually manages to wrest the focus from Rockwell).


The Way Way Back was a Sundance hit, snapped up by Fox Searchlight and went on to be the biggest commercial success of the screenings there that year. It’s funny, touching and shrewdly calculated; Faxon and Rash could probably ease full time into writing-directing on the back of it, should they so wish (next up is The Heart with Kristen Wiig), but I don’t think there’s much danger of them doing so exclusively given their natural yen for performance.







Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.