Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Remember when I wrote about Drinking Buddies? Of course you don’t, don’t patronize me. In that film, I was thrown by generally amusing and likable actors/actresses doing un-amusing and un-likable things. Why do I bring this up? Firstly, I’m a bit late seeing the movie so I had more preconceived notions going in than I normally would via others’ opinions. One of these being that guy
Brain Bran Brian you see all around our work. We used to argue over who got to sit in the way, way back of our car so this movie should be highly relatable on paper. We’ll get to that. Like Drinking Buddies, The Way Way Back is one of ‘those’ dramedies. A mixed bag of critical popularity, probably doesn’t make or cost a ton of money, well acted, well made and seemingly an interesting tale… yet you finish watching it with a feeling of ‘meh.’ With that ringing endorsement barely vibrating your ears, onwards to inquiry!
Should I pay to see it?
Probably not, with a few exceptions. This is not to say you should avoid the film by any means. Rather, The Way Way Back has recently popped up on HBO – catch it there sometime. It strikes me as the type of movie that will remain in the rotation of those premium channels, so if you have a subscription, you’re already set. At least until it shows up on Netflix.
So who should pay to see it? My ‘pros’ column for TWWB: Sam Rockwell is one of my all time favorites and a favorite of the whole Goodly Watching family, and he does not disappoint. He really is awesome. One of these days we will lay out for you his greatest hits in some kind of order. The guy was fun hamming it up in the messy Iron Man 2. He out-Walken’d Walken in Seven Psychopaths. I digress. Beyond the Amazing Spider Rockwell, The Way Way Back has a very good script and a great, let me repeat GREAT cast to support the roles. If you love Rockwell as I do, or are the type of renter or DVD-buyer always curious to see films with ensemble casts such as this, TWWB will not waste your dollars (just don’t use too many of those dollars).
Could I watch it with a date?
Yes, yes you could. The story moves like a warm summer beach day, uncomfortably pleasant, lazy and yet somehow exhausting. Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (both in very funny smaller roles) are really interesting guys who clearly know how to make a movie that is touching, poignant, heartbreaking, real and funny (they of the similar The Descendants fame – they wrote the film). The Way Way Back was an enjoyable movie in many ways, but in a sad-but-quietly-hopeful sort of way. The younger actors do a great job bringing their characters to life, feeling like familiar faces you know at the beach, capturing youthful summer escapism in a way I found quite lovely. Personally, I found the dialogue to be engaging and realistic and again, the cast is full of a fun group of characters. Here I’ll harken back to Brian’s assessment of the film when he first saw it (and I knew going in). Simply put, he told me those months ago, “I thought it would be funnier.” Based on the cast and the way I’ve described it, can you imagine TWWB as a fun summer romp? A coming-of-age tale of awkward young rebellion? Truly, I found myself very entertained for the hour-forty minutes as I can not think of anything explicitly horrible about the movie. But, like Drinking Buddies, Faxon and Rash’s piece left needling in my brain.
What is it? I thought a long, long time about The Way Way Back. I thought back to the other films I’ve seen that left a similar feeling. What’s the connection? They’re too real. Despite our bitching and moaning, I think we the moviegoing public like the way Hollywood ties things up sometimes. Rash and Faxon have a great story and script, and the actors are all superb in their roles – and that ends up working against the enjoyability of the conclusion in a broader sense. The movie might be enjoyable to watch with someone you like, but hopefully one you know well. This could leave a new pair with some uncomfortable realities. Everything that happens, and this is both a credit and a curse, is grounded. The adolescent relationships are awkward and spot on. The adult relationships are messy. The ending is… inconclusive. Such is life.
Could I watch it with my mother?
I asked that other g-dub-dubber to help me with continuing this line of thinking. We like movies (have we made that clear?). One the one hand, The Way Way Back is a wonderfully made movie. However, by the end, you’re left either not trusting, aghast of, or full-on hating many of the adult characters. It is jarring to see Steve Carell play such an enormous jerk. He’s played many roles outside of the sometimes-jerky Michael Scott, but his Trent here really throws you. He’s merely the most extreme example, a completely not-good person. It’s jarring in every scene, honestly, as someone who still watches old Office episodes in times of high stress. The adult storylines away from the water park make for some twisted drama and twist the ending from what could be a more clear-cut triumph into something more complex. This is again both a good thing and a bad thing – We might laugh about the ride off into the sunset, but I think, on some level, we get uncomfortable when movies, our entertainment, our escape, call our attention to the messier corners of reality – even in a movie so otherwise entertaining as TWWB. You question our hero’s mother the whole time, to put it simply, so… no. Do not see this with your mom.
Recent evidence has shown a wide audience will embrace smaller, independent movies if they’re odd, off-kilter or awkwardly charming, romantic and well-written – I could ramble off more well-meaning descriptors. We just don’t all love a movie that leaves us melancholy. The Way Way Back runs too long to be light and summery, to0 light to be dark, to0 dark to be… Moonrise Kingdom or similarly entertaining fare. I enjoyed this curious film, though I would not argue with some’s assessment it is a also a mess. Not every movie makes you think about the characters and their thinking, their mindsets, their decisions – I do give credit there – Not every movie, frankly, is made or acted intelligently enough. The Way Way Back may not be an excellent or even a very good movie, however one I found very interesting in its mediocrity. There are reasons to see this movie, despite the flaws. Were I less loquaciously inclined (a phrase I am now planning on using as a sweet euphemism for my over-talking), I could state TWWB: Engaging but Frustrating. Check the movie out someday. Just be warned: you will wonder if you actually feel good after watching.