If naming Moonrise Kingdom as the second best movie of 2012 didn’t give it away, I have a weakness for quirky indie comedies about alienated outsiders. This doesn’t guarantee I’ll like them of course (still not too fond of Silver Linings Playbook) but I do like them a lot. And while The Way, Way Back isn’t a perfect example of such, it’s pretty good, and buoyed by some great performances.
The plot is concerned with Duncan (Liam James, who you may remember from absolutely nothing) a quiet and alienated youngster, who is heading out on summer break to the beach with his mother and her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell in an…interesting performance) who is a bit of a jerk. Oh and I guess Trent’s daughter is there too, whatever the movie doesn’t care about her, neither should I. Anyway, while there he meets not only the increasingly weird neighbors (and one of the neighbor’s hot and yet also alienated daughters) but also eventually finds his way to a water park, where he meets the eccentric owner (Sam Rockwell, 80 percent of the reason I went to see this) who gives him a job and helps him come out of his shell.
So yes, it’s yet another movie about the Summer That Changed Everything, a plot that depending on how many movies you’ve seen, you’ll have seen anywhere from 10 to 100 times. But it’s very well put together version of that story, with very few missteps. It’s a good script, as almost all the characters (including a couple of absurdly minor ones) are well characterized and interesting. The direction, while occasionally on the nose, is quite good. It’s the first directorial outing by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (two of the writers of The Descendant, one of the better films of 2011 and both of whom show up in minor roles) and I’m officially looking for great things in their future. Oh and it's funny. Really, really funny. That's important too. You remember funny right?
But if there’s a single reason to see this movie, it’s the actors. Sam Rockwell was my primary motivation for seeing this and he does not disappoint, completely dominating any scene he’s in. But he’s still a good dramatic actor and it shows, as he’s capable of finding the darker, or at least more depressing side of a character who feels that he has to be always ‘on.’ Also turning in good work is Steve Carell, who we’re so used to seeing play nice guys that it’s almost weird seeing him turn up here as someone who’s casually, almost accidentally, cruel or at least callous. But it works, partially cause it seems to be a tiny bit meta; Trent is just good enough on top of that for us to believe he could fool Duncan’s mother and certainly good enough to give us the feeling he’s got some good in him. And I have to mention Liam James, just because he acts enough like a real teenager to remind me why I hated being a teenager.
It does have more than a few flaws, the most glaring being the way it refuses to characterize most of the few teenage girls who are, with one exception, flat stereotypes of bitchy mean girls. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is a little irritating. It also has a little difficulty with some of the secondary adult characters, in particular Rob Corddry’s Kip and the ending goes on a little bit too long. Oh and this is a minor thing, but is there a ‘generic quirky comedy soundtrack’ list that people just go to for movies like this?
Look, I went out of my way (way out of my way) to see this because it hit two of my personal buttons; Quirky indie comedies about alienated outsiders and Sam Rockwell. But even if you don’t share those particular preferences, The Way, Way Back is a mostly well made movie with a good script and a great cast. This year is shaping up to be kind of a weak year, so I suggest you take what you can get. Or you could just go see The Lone Ranger since that looked so fucking great.
Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he hopes that the Academy’s fetish for quirky comedies means we can finally get Sam Rockwell an Oscar Nomination.