Directors: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring: Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet
Written by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Running Time: 103 mins
Release date: 29th August 2013
For most of the year I have been berating the state of American comedy film. Looking over the past 8 months, it’s easy to see why: films that rely of jokes about sex, bodily fluids and drugs have become the tired format of the genre. Thank goodness, then, for The Way, Way Back which shows that comedy doesn’t have to resort to the lowest common denominator but is witty, moving and richly rewarding. It also reminds you what it was like being an awkward teenager again.
Duncan is a shy 14-year-old who is going to stay at his mother’s new boyfriend’s summer home for the holidays. A complete outsider who finds it hard to express himself, Duncan is almost bullied by his mother’s new man, Trent, and is despised by Trent’s own daughter, the superficial Steph. Finding himself lost in a world where the adults are acting like children, especially when mixing with semi-alcoholic neighbour, Betty and rich couple, kip and Joan, Duncan has to find solace somewhere. He awkwardly befriends Betty’s daughter Susanna and find the local water park, Water Wizz, a place he can escape to. While there, he forms an unlikely friendship with wayward park manager, Owen, who slowly brings Duncan out of his shell as he becomes a popular figure in this stranger watery world.
This has class stamped all over it. From the script to the performances, it’s one of those rare films where everywhere you look, you are impressed. Writers and directors Nat Foxen and jim Rash (who won Oscars for writing the George Clooney starrer, The Descendants) manage to do something that a lot of writers don’t: they understand their characters. These aren’t one-dimensional people, they are fully fleshed out. Right down to the minor roles. Having done that, they allow the story and the situations to run their course and in the process, you find yourself fully emoting in them. You want to spend time with Duncan and his new-found friends. You feel for his plight and you want him to happy and not the victim of an overbearing adult.
The performances are all equally good and it does help that the script is so sharp and observant that it would take a really bad actor to ruin it. Foxen and Rash have got the casting absolutely right. It was a pleasure to see Mr Nice Guy Steve Carell playing completely out-of-type as the hideously self-obsessed Trent. The opening scene in which the group are travelling to the summer home, Trent asks Duncan to rate himself from 1 to 10. Duncan, struggling to reply, says a 6. Trent retorts 3. Immediately, you don’t just dislike this guy. you hate him. Ruling the roost and to an extend, even his new lady, Carell excels and shows that he is more than a one-trick pony. As Duncan’s mother, Toni Collette is always good value and she doesn’t disappoint here. Torn between the love of her son and wanting to please her new man, she shows the pain of a woman who hasn’t had the easy life and now is in a complex position and it is incredibly moving in places.
It’s the performances of three outstanding actors that really capture the limelight in a film crammed with goodness. Allison Janney as the drunkard neighbour, Betty, is an absolute hoot. Flinging insults at her young son with a lazy eye, you keep thinking to yourself, should I really be laughing at this? but she is so appealing and funny that you can’t help help yourself. Janney is one of those actresses that never gets a starring role but steals the film nevertheless and she almost does it again here. She has tough competition from Sam Rockwell, who is arrogant, lazy, sarcastic and yet you want to have a person like Owen as your friend. Rockwell is incredibly amenable and likeable and his relationship with Duncan is one of true respect and even though he is butt of some of Owen’s jokes, there is no malice.
Finally there’s Duncan. Awkward, lacking in confidence and completely withdrawn. Played by Liam James, it is a masterclass on how to play a angst ridden teenager without going through the same old cliches. You sympathise with him. You want him to come out of himself and you root for him. It’s a triumph of a performance and Mr James is definitely due a very long career if this is to go by.
Get the feeling I loved it? It touched me, it made me laugh out loud and I left the cinema with a huge grin on my face. Forget about seeing the superficial and bad tasting comedies that are littering the cinema at the moment. This is the one you need to check out. It will surprise you in a way you would never imagine.