“Ah yes, the awkward high school kid coming of age story. The other staple of summer at the movies, albeit one with usually less fanfare than the big action movies. You see these all the time, with the details changed. But the reason they’re done so often is that it is a subject matter that is very relatable. We’ve all been thru some difficulties growing up. It’s an endless source of material for writers to draw from.
I find that what makes each of these stories stand out from the others is the characters, and on that front, this was a winning film. At least as far as the adults go. You’ve gotta have characters that fall into three categories: the outcast, the oppressors, the unlikely ally. The outcast, was Duncan, played by Liam James. I thought he nailed it a little bit too much. The problem you run into when you’re trying to recreate those awkward teenage years is that while you want the movie to feel realistic, you don’t want it to be so real that you too feel awkward watching the film. Since it took a while to get going, we were stuck in that place for a little too long.
Given that it was summer and the story had to do with Duncan getting dragged to a beach house with his mom and her boyfriend, the oppressors were the adults: said Mom and BF and their neighbors and friends. Yeah, some of it was a little weird to accept how childish the adults were acting in that community (spring break for adults was the phrase thrown around). However, they were played by such an incredible cast, I was quick to forgive them. Toni Collette, the ultimate single mom trying to make it work (see also: About a Boy, The Sixth Sense) played his mom. She is always a force on screen, and this was no different. Allison Janney chewed scenery as the rarely sober next door neighbor. But the best one of all was Steve Carell as the d-bag b-friend. We pretty much always see Carell play the nice guy. Even when he starts out bad, he ends up good (see: Despicable Me). This was quite a different turn for him, and a very welcome one at that.
In order for a movie like this to work, and you to not wanna slit your wrists in sympathy with our outcast, we need an ally. The unlikely person who befriends our protagonist, and gives them guidance and acceptance. Sometimes, it’s other friends (see: Perks of Being a Wallflower). Sometimes, it’s a trusting adult (see: Donnie Darko…eh best I could come up with). Here, our ally Owen, played by the glorious Sam Rockwell, is a bit of a man-child, somewhere between the two, and very much the best of both worlds. He’s hip enough to know how to relate to Duncan, but old enough to give advice from experience. I saw a comment somewhere that Hollywood doesn’t quite know what to do with Sam Rockwell, the combination of his spirit, charm, and talent I suppose, but here is a film where he fits. For me, this movie was all about his scenes. Given that Ive been quite a fan of his for a while, I’ll say that’s a very good thing
The Way Way Back – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n