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The Way Way Back

(2013)
Thank you, Kurt Loder. Your review of this movie not only made me aware of it, but stirred an interest to see it. The Way Way Back follows the story of young Duncan (Liam James), a shy fourteen year-old who loves his mother Pam (Toni Colette) but dislikes her boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell). Trent is taking the two of them and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin), whos a few years older than Duncan and wants nothing to do with him, to his summer home for a vacation. Upon arrival they are immediately embraced by Trents drunken neighbor, Betty (Allison Janney), who has two kids of her own: Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), whos about Duncans age, and Peter (River Alexander) whos a few years younger than Duncan. Rounding out the cast are Trents friends Kip (Rob Corddry) and his wife Joan (Amanda Peet). While the adults pass the time predominantly in a boozy haze (This place is like spring break for adults, Susanna remarks), Duncan, already isolated, feels increasingly alone and despondent. He is directed to spend time with Peter and the two get on acceptably, but Trents constant badgering makes him uncomfortable at home. He escapes during the day to a local low-rent water park, named Water Wizz, where he encounters Owen (Sam Rockwell), a witty slacker who takes a shine to him and gives him a job. Duncan takes all of Owens gibes literally at first (Owen stops at one point, regarding Duncan, and asks, Do you get comedy?) but soon begins to open up around him, and the other colorful characters at the water park soon accept Duncan as one of their own. Of course theres more, but two paragraphs suffice to give you the gist of the plot. Thats not what this movie is about anyway; its much more interested in the characters and their relationships, and manages the feat of introducing us to this world through Duncans eyes and letting us gradually piece things together for ourselves. We understand the threads of his life better than he does, but even so he has his moment of awakening in a painful but powerful confrontation with his mother and Trent. The script is smart, funny, and tender, and the acting is all completely first rate. Of course you expect that from Toni Collette and Allison Janney, but Carell, whom I usually dont care for, is almost perfect here, far better than Ive ever seen him. The kids are uniformly good Levins Steph isnt in it much but her self-absorption and dripping contempt for Duncan are deftly revealed; likewise, Robbs Susanna whos a shade too pretty for such a sympathetic role-- is nonetheless very very good. And of course Liam James, who is in just about every scene, is top notch; the movie wouldnt work otherwise. But the real scene-stealer here is Rockwell, who effortlessly portrays the sort of underachieving man-child every teen secretly (at least when I was a kid) aspired to be; Owens funny, hes sharp, smart, hes way too good for the water park, and he knows it. But unlike everyone else there, theres no rancor or regret in his continued employment in the place; Owen accepts

himself fully, and it is this self-comfort that allows him to pick Duncan out of the crowd and help the kid along. Rockwells ad libs and comic timing are letter-perfect, and while he already has a career full of terrific performances, this is probably his best. There have been many coming-of-age movies and in certain ways this one hews to the formula, but the performances are so riveting that this is a must-see movie. Comedy should always strive to be this organic and intelligent, and the noncomedic part of the film is just as strong. The framework may be familiar, but this movie is so smartly made you forget that and lose yourself in the characters, which is entirely the aim of most storytelling in the first place. This is an excellent film and Ive told you too much already; see it before anyone can spoil it further. October 26, 2013

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