Judge Patrick Naugle is back where he belongs.
We've all been there.
Duncan (Liam James, 2012) and his mother, Pam (Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine), are on their way to a beach house with Pam's abrasive boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell, Date Night). As they arrive at Trent's house, they're welcomed by his boozy neighbor, Betty (Alison Janney, Juno), Betty's teenage daughter (AnnaSophia Robb, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), and Trent's friend Kip (Rob Corddry, Hot Tub Time Machine) and his wife Joan (Amanda Peet, Saving Silverman). Duncan feels mistreated and shunned, so he takes off on his bike into town to escape his frustrating home life. It's there that he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell, The Green Mile), the carefree manager of the local water park, The Water Wizz. Owen and Duncan strike up and unexpected friendship as the amusing and breezy Owen invites Duncan to work at the water park for the summer. The Water Wizz turns out to be a turning point for Duncan, who starts to gain some self confidence and creates bonds with the staff, including Owen's love interest Caitlin (Maya Rudolph, Bridesmaids), one of the lifeguards (co-writer and co-director Nat Faxon), and a the grumpily weird James (co-writer and co-director Jim Rash). As the summer rolls on Duncan finds himself smitten with Betty's daughter and begins to stand up for himself for the first time in his life.
Every summer movie goers get bombarded with a multitude of films, often action adaptations of popular comic book characters or an endless parade of sequels and prequels. A few of them are very good, some of them are mediocre, and more often than not they're just tired retreads—same old, same old. One of the real tragedies of the summer is that, generally speaking, smaller movies get lost in the shuffle; while everyone is rushing out to see the latest Batman or Iron Man adventure, independent films or more modestly budgeted movies get trampled on like a paraplegic in the middle of the running of the bulls in Papalona.
During the summer of 2013 my favorite film, hands down, was the cheerfully amusing The Way Way Back. This film easily blew past Lone Rangers, exploding White Houses, and caped crusaders and ended up being the most bang you could get for your cinematic buck. From the marketing and trailers I thought The Way Way Back looked rather amusing, and little else. What I wasn't prepared for a film that was wildly funny, emotionally resonant, and 100% engaging. If you're looking for mindless explosions, look elsewhere. If, however, you're looking for something different and with real heart, The Way Way Back is a very smart choice.
Clearly, writers/co-directors Nathon Fax (The Descendants) and Community's Jim Rush (who also co-star in the film) have an affinity for the 1980s, especially the Bill Murray cult classic Meatballs, whose fingerprints can be seen all over The Way Way Back. Sam Rockwell gives an utterly brilliant performance as Owen, a slacker who knows his way around a one-liner but fails to truly understand women. While all of the performers in The Way Way Back are excellent, it's Rockwell who gives the movie its center. Rockwell—known often for his diverse and often darker roles—comes off as funny, sweet, charming, and positively endearing. I know that the Academy Awards rarely give Oscars out for comedic performances, but if there were any justice in the world Rockwell would at least garner a nomination for his work in The Way Way Back.
The rest of the cast is uniformly wonderful. Steve Carrell—usually so likable in TV and movies—works outside his usual comedic box to make Trent the kind of character you love to hate. Toni Collette plays Duncan's sad sack mother with empathy and pathos. Many of the supporting performances sparkle, including Allison Janney as a drunk middle aged mother, AnnaSophia Robb as Duncan's love interest, and Maya Rudolph as the woman Owen truly loves. Young Liam James rounds out the cast as the introverted Duncan, giving one of the best teenage performances in the last twenty years. Duncan starts as a shy, oppressed boy who seems beat down and slowly emerges as a happy, funny kid who has far more potential than even he realizes.
One of the complaints I heard about The Way Way Back is that it's "slow" and "uneventful." This is true, but only if you're accustomed to summer films that move at the speed of Michael Bay and feature storylines that deal with the end of the world or aliens coming to take over the planet. By comparison, The Way Way Back has little at stake, except for the happiness of its characters. Yet that's enough to make this the best movie of the summer of 2013—and maybe even the year. I can't recommend this movie highly enough.
The Way Way Back is presented in a very attractive 1.85:1 widescreen transfer in 1080p high definition. The image quality to this transfer is superb; the colors (especially during the water park sequences) are bright and cheery while the black levels are solid and dark. Overall, Fox has produced a great looking high definition image. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround in English. Much like the video transfer, this audio mix is excellent utilizing many directional effects (again, at the water park) as well as a bouncy score by Rob Simonsen ((500) Days of Summer). Also included are DTS 5.1 tracks in Spanish, French, German, and Italian, plus Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in Spanish, Czech, Hungarian, and Thai.
Bonus features include a half hour long behind-the-scenes featurette ("Behind the Scenes with the Hilarious Cast and Filmmakers"), a few deleted scenes, a few more short featurettes ("Tour of the Water Park," "The Filmmakers: Jim and Nat," "Ensemble"), a theatrical trailer, and a digital copy of the film.
The Way Way Back is just an all around great movie. Even as a blind purchase, this is an easy recommendation.
Way, way fun.
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