THE WAY, WAY BACK

Seldom are there comedies that can pull off both humor and drama.  There are even lesser ones that have the ability to tug on that small tickle in the back of your throat.   The Way, Way Back seems to do both.   The film also does it with a lesser known cast.   Well, maybe not all of them.  Many of them have very familiar faces even though they may not be household names.    Be it as it is, the film has recently made its way through several festivals around the country garnering a lot of positive attention, most recently Sundance and Newport Beach; while closing the upcoming Los Angeles Film Festival.

We all know Steve Carell, as he is normally the funniest guy in the classroom – but not this time.  To be quite honest, audiences might actually dislike him this time around.   Carell plays Trent, the new douche bag father figure for a single mother (Toni Collette) and her two teenage children (Liam James, Zoe Levin).   The film starts out with Trent driving the family on summer vacation, while verbally giving the younger teen Duncan a hard time – foreshadowing the much disrespect that he has towards the awkward and insecure kid that he immediately seems.

The road trip takes the family to Trent’s cozy beach house to meet his overly fun and married friends Joan and Kip (Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry); but not before meeting his very forward and drunk neighbor, Betty (Allison Janney, The West Wing)- showing the film means just as much humor as it does drama.  The film makes its way through the motions giving a clear glimpse into introverted Duncan’s current relationship with his newly single mom, Pam, whose fixation is a bit more on herself these days; while his bigger sis’ Steph drowns herself in to her snooty beach friends and iPod.  It isn’t until Duncan meets the neighbor’s daughter, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb, Soul Surfer) and an older fun-guy, Owen – played by a comedic and animated Sam Rockwell (Seven Psychopaths); that he begins to forget about his unhappy family life and his war with Trent.

Newcomer, Liam James does a terrific job at making the audiences feel Duncan’s pain, as he finds a happy new world at a water park called Water Wizz run by Owen and his girlfriend (Maya Rudolph, SNL) giving the relief of a horrible Trent, as he insists with picking on Duncan.   It will be surprising if audiences don’t see more future work from this bright young actor.  Fans of Carell might be a bit let down to not see anything funny from him, as he clearly plays the antagonist; and hands the comedic wand to the rest of the cast with the bulk to Sam Rockwell’s character, who hilariously shines in his role as the positive role model Duncan finds solace in.  Audiences will laugh a lot at the films family fit humor, while maybe experiencing a bit of teary-eyed moments with Duncan’s struggles throughout the plot.

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There are a few small wrinkles in the story as it seems unusual how, or even why, Owen takes to befriending Duncan so persistently but it goes almost unnoticeable especially since it provides a perfect balance to the films drama, if not most of its humor.  The other wrinkle being Duncan’s budding relationship with Susanna, however unmemorable; yet maybe getting a pass since it’s mostly about two unhappy teen’s innocently experiencing angst.  There might be some concerns with the film communicating a wrong message about troubled teens acting out their “teen angst”, but it should go noted that the message is a lot more about relating the audience than it might be as informing.

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All-in-all the film kicks major butt in the independent film reviews and even holds its own among the much more big-budgeted studio-friendly flicks.   Directors, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash do great work with directing the talent they were lucky to get, while also delivering their own memorable performances in the film.  With its funny and colorful characters giving way to a funny-yet interesting plot, The Way, Way Back will warm the hearts of anyone who remembers the complications of teenage life.