IFFBoston Review: The Way, Way Back

the way way way back

rating: 2.5

From the opening scene of The Way, Way Back - the directorial debut of The Descendants co-writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon - it€™s obvious that we€™re watching a movie that€™s trying too hard. Way too hard. The Way, Way Back follows Duncan (Liam James) a quiet, sulking teen, over a summer spent with his mom€™s new boyfriend (Steve Carrel) at his beach house. Duncan is still reeling from his parents divorce, wary of the new boyfriend, and isolated from any friends his own age. Guess who€™s going to come of age this summer?? This is a routine formula, but when done well, it can still be engaging and refreshing. In terms of its cast and crew, The Way, Way Back has all the ingredients necessary to be a more than satisfying picture. Yet hardly any of these pieces are used correctly. A stellar cast - including Steve Carrel, Toni Colette, Maya Rudolph, Sam Rockwell, and Amanda Peet, among others - is wasted by lazy writing that delivers almost every joke with the subtlety of a baseball bat. Nearly every character is turned all the way up to 11, so instead of relatable, fleshed out people, they become genre tropes (the crazy neighbor, pseudo-father, weak-willed mother) on steroids. These aren€™t characters, they€™re caricatures. Of the lot of them, Rockwell is the only one able to bring any real energy to the proceedings when he takes the screen. CORRECT SIZE - WAY BACK 1 Perhaps a bigger problem, however, is that Duncan, for at least the first half of the film, is a complete vacuum. We can attach to loners, misfits or disconnected characters. But we need to be given something to attach to. Duncan€™s characters simply sits silently, emotionless, while the rest of the film happens around him. It€™s not a bad performance because there€™s nothing to perform. It€™s a still life. When his character finally does start to take shape, it€™s a little too late to really grab us on the level it needs to. But that might not matter anyway, because even if Duncan was up and running from the get-go, The Way, Way Back doesn€™t have anywhere new or interesting to take him. This is as formulaic as the coming-of-age movie gets; nearly every scene, beat and plot arc can be spotted a mile away. Worst of all, there€™s no real sense of passion or connection on the part of the filmmakers to breath some life into the film. Consider Adventureland, a very similar film to The Way, Way Back. Adventureland was relatively formulaic, but watching it, you could tell that Greg Mottola had lived the film, or at least some version of it. It was personal for him, which made it personal for us as an audience. The Way, Way Back doesn€™t have any of that passion or feeling; rather, it feels like the movie you make if you€™re trying to make a sleeper indie hit. Rash and Faxon have followed the instruction manual left behind by films like Little Miss Sunshine and Napoleon Dynamite, but they forgot the most important piece: the heart.
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David Braga lives in Boston, MA, where he watches movies, football, and enjoys a healthy amount of beer. It's a tough life, but someone has to live it.