Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Movie Review: The Way Way Back

*This review was originally posted as part of a series of capsule reviews during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. I'm reposting to coincide with the film's upcoming theatrical release. 

The Way Way Back

After picking up a pair of Oscars for their work writing The Descendants, actor-writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (Community's Dean Pelton and Ben & Kate's Ben Fox) took their long-in-limbo script for The Way, Way Back and decided to make the darned thing themselves.

They got plenty of help, namely their all-star cast of Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Allison Janney and Maya Rudolph.

TWWB tells the story of Duncan (Liam James) a teenager smack-dab in the middle of his "awkward phase" who is dragged against his will on a summer vacation with his mom (Collette) and her new boyfriend (Carell). Once there, he struggles to find his place between the boozy adults and their Ken and Barbie children, ultimately finding his way to a nearby waterpark where he's taken under the wing of the endearingly-arrested man-child manager (Rockwell).  It is there, with his new family of waterpark misfits, that Duncan feels comfortable enough to poke his head out of the teenage cocoon and find a voice.

The movie starts out slow, and Carell's arc doesn't seem fully realized, but the introduction of Rockwell and Water Wizz inject this coming-of-age tale with a shot of adrenaline as the plot comes alive with wit, nostalgia and the kind of heartfelt inspiration showcased in similar indies like Little Miss Sunshine and It's Kind of a Funny Story. James as Duncan is exceptional, almost off-putting in his early on-screen awkwardness before transforming organically in front of your eyes. Faxon and Rash also pop up in a pair of understated bit parts, contributing to some of the most memorable moments and, for those of us paying attention behind the scenes, making the success of the story all the more personal.

*The Way Way Back opens in Utah theaters on Friday, July 19.

Grade: A-

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