October 11, 2013

The Way Way Back

Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, 2013

Duncan (Liam Jones) is a fourteen year old loner forced to tag along with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) on a trip to his beach house. Eager to escape the boredom of his mother and Trent's dinner parties, he leaves the beach house in search of some excitement. He finds it at a local water park where he meets immature park worker Owen (Sam Rockwell). Owen takes him under his wing and tries to pull Duncan out of his shell.

If The Sandlot and Adventureland had a baby, it would be The Way Way Back. It's a coming of age tale that does cross some similar themes with some of the other films in it's category, but also contains some raw honesty and emotional value that add some distinction. Duncan's character immediately draws sympathy as Trent asks him what number out of 10 he thinks he is, only to answer his own question by callously saying he believes he's a "3". This not only makes you feel for Duncan, but also shows you that Trent's character is going to be a true departure from Carrell's typical work. Liam Jones does a great job of playing a character that may not necessarily talk your ear off, but his body language and facial expressions paint a detailed picture. Clearly never equipped with proper social skills, his mother partly to blame - at least in the short term. She is so preoccupied with making her relationship work with Trent that she doesn't have time to spend with Duncan. Instead, she leaves a few dollars on the table with a quick note and (ironically) urges him to go out and make some friends. While his mother is clearly settling on a relationship, Owen has settled on his job at the water-park. He clearly sees something early on in Duncan, likely within himself, and generously offers him a job at the park with no former background check. Owen soon serves as an exorcist to Duncan's reserved demeanor, urging him to come out of his shell. To do this, he needs to respect Duncan and treat him as an equal.

Faxon and Rash made some decisions that really added some originality. The scene where Duncan is forced to take the cardboard from the street-dancers could have gone in a different direction. The dancers could have put him on the spot and completely humiliated him, setting him way back from the progress he had already made. Instead, they encouraged him to give the dancing a shot. While it may be a more Disney-esque route, it was refreshing. Even the casting of Duncan proves to be a bold move. Instead of casting a good looking young guy who pretends to be the dork (seen that before), they go with Liam Jones who really seems to live the part. Instead of the filmmakers mailing it in when it comes to the interpersonal relationships involved, they do the opposite. They are challenged. When Duncan gets to a breaking point with his frustration over his mothers complete lack of confidence in her relationship - he is vocal about it. You feel the disappointment, you feel the frustration. You feel the sympathy. And you feel proud of him. In the end it's a film really designed to see the story through the eyes of Duncan. And in ninety minutes, it is transformative. At that age, when working at a place like The Water Whiz, the older people you work for seem almost god-like at times. You can't wait to get to their age, so you can be exactly like them. Little do you know, you'll grow up to have a completely different perspective and what you should have done is just appreciated that moment in time to it's fullest. Owen knows this, and realizes that Duncan just doesn't know it yet - but he'll move on to bigger things. But until then, the best seat in the house will be the one in the way, way back.

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