Oscar winning screen writing debutants (The Descendants) Nat Faxon and Jim Rash prove they're no fluke with the hilarious coming of age 'dramedy' The Way, Way Back. From the opening scene it's clear that there's a rich personal texture whisked together with impeccable comedic sensibility. On the drive out to a summer vacation home as his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and step sister sleep away the drive, teenager Duncan (Liem James) must endure a forced dialogue with his mother's douchey boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell). Trent asks "What score do you think you are out of ten?" Duncan answers, "Six" with trepidation. Trent confidently retorts "Oh no you're a three" and proceeds to give him a laundry list of things that he has observed that he could improve. This squirm inducing opening sets Duncan on a path to prove Trent wrong and discover who he is in the face of the eclectic bunch of characters he encounters (Anna Sophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney and even co writer/directors Nat Faxon & Jim Rash).
Aesthetically Rash and Faxon create this out of time sea-side setting that feels like it balances the warmth of nostalgia with an honest fresh coat of paint over predominantly empty structures. The scripting and story is refreshingly good, especially because the male protagonist in this 'coming of age' story is NOT entirely focused on a relationship or using romance to define the transition into adulthood. That's not to say that Duncan's crush Susanna (Robb) isn't an integral part to how the story progresses, but it's how he redefines himself with his jobat a water park that bears the greater weight. The characters are wonderfully vivid and quirky thanks to the incredible ensemble and the dialogue packs an explosive punch. As one hilarious line blurs into the next hilarious line the festival audience's waves of laughter overwhelmed the sound.
Rockwell's man-child water park owner and self-proclaimed comedic genius, Owen, is infectious. He's ridiculously charismatic and his ability to 'play berate' Duncan during their opening encounters coaxes him out of his shell. Janney's Betty, the extremely forthright and inappropriate cougar, just drips champagne comedy every moment she speaks. While Collette could act as a coat rack and make it compelling and the universally likeable Carrell gets to show off a different set of acting muscles playing the frustrating Trent. The only real flaw of the piece is in the under-utilised Rob Corddry, who has three lines in the entire film, and the typecasting of Amanda Peet as floozy.
The Way, Way Back is an endearing, authentic tale of the challenges of finding yourself, gift wrapped in the hilarious irony that everyone's bad at it.
[rating=4] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.