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New Release Review - The Way Way Back

A depressed teen comes out of his shell while working at a water park.


Directed by: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Zoe Levin


Much to his chagrin, 14-year-old Duncan (James) travels to Cape Cod to spend the summer with his separated mother Pam (Collette), her highly unlikable new boyfriend Trent (Carell) and his moody daughter Steph (Levin). There, he falls for Susanna (Robb), the pretty daughter of Trent's neighbor, but his awkward demeanor prevents him from taking action on this matter. When an encounter with Owen (Rockwell), the manager of a local water park, leads to Duncan taking a job at said park, he comes out of his shell, developing a new confident outlook on life.
With 'The Way Way Back', comic actors-turned-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash now become actors-turned-writer-directors. Last year, I found myself baffled by the praise heaped on 'The Descendants', the charmless Alexander Payne directed movie for which Faxon and Rash picked up a screenplay Oscar. For this reason I went into their directorial debut with many reservations. Thankfully, 'The Way Way Back' has enough charm for several movies, erasing the memory of their previous, soulless collaboration.
As with Tom Hanks, I've always found Carell to be something of a sinister presence and I've never understood his comic appeal. Here, he's cast against type as the villain of the piece, a monster who tells his girlfriend's son he's a "3 out of 10" in the opening scene. Ironically, casting Carell against type gives him the role he was born to play. Throughout the film you're eagerly awaiting his comeuppance but Faxon and Rash never give in to Hollywood black-and-white character dynamics. The characters in their film, as with most real humans, don't always make the right choices, either for themselves or others.
James is a revelation in the lead role and if the moment where he first breaks into his wonderfully geeky smile doesn't win you over you're most likely dead inside. Carell's wannabe stepfather and his snooty daughter aside, every character is immensely likable and, importantly, realistically flawed. 
While I'm not criticizing the role created for her here, it's a shame Collette has found herself relegated to stock "Mother" roles as she's a quality actress who should really be headlining films. She's great here in a role that, although quite small, is a perfect portrayal of someone who can't help making wrong life choices.
The movie ends on a wonderfully ambiguous note and hopefully Faxon and Rash can resist the temptation to pull a Linklater and follow these characters for a sequel. The future of these people belongs in the minds of the audience. To borrow a phrase from this film - "Let it be ours".
7/10


Eric Hillis

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