The line between comedy and drama has never been so awkwardly pronounced in the abundantly sweet, but stilted The Way, Way Back. Writers and directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon have managed to obtain a group of wildly talented actors who manage to hold the film afloat but decided to play it safe and deliver us the expected beats rather than attempting something new.
The story focuses on the painfully odd teen, Duncan (Liam James), who is forced into a vacation with his mom (Toni Collette) and her boyfriend (Steve Carell) who’s decided it’s his job to educate and humiliate Duncan over the course of their stay.
Rather than stay and endure the embarrassment, he instead ventures out in the small town and comes across a water park run by Owen (Sam Rockwell) who takes Duncan under his wing to try and help him grow into himself and learn to stand on his own.
The story is sweet, undeniably so, with some stellar acting by the main cast. Carell leaves his comfort zone to play the antagonist, the one no one will walk out of the theater supporting, but whom many will inspire a new outlook on Carell’s capabilities. Collette is as always solid, and she and Rockwell both play their characters with such effortlessness it makes you realize you’re watching seasoned pros. Rockwell also has the added bonus of being one of the most naturally charismatic actors working today.
The main divide in the film is the murky tone that can’t quite decide what type of movie it wants to be. There are plenty of films that defy genre, there are plenty that manage to merge comedy and drama together without fault; The Way, Way Back isn’t one of them. Its comedic moments are funny–a supporting role by Allison Janney has the majority of the laugh out loud moments. The dramatic moments are effective–Collete a master of worming her way under your skin. The problem is the movie’s inability to seamlessly string the two together, which gives the film an overall disjointed atmosphere.
Maybe the real problem is that as of late we’ve seen movies that have tackled similar subjects and have done so brilliantly. Mud told a coming of age story in a film that’s –to me- nearly unparalleled to many of the other films out this year and with a young lead who more than carried the film. Last year, we were given The Perks of Being a Wallflower which took the awkward teenager trope and subverted it, made us laugh, and then crushed us.
The Way, Way Back isn’t a bad film, it isn’t even a dull film, but it’s woefully unoriginal considering the writing and acting talent on board. I liked it, but I went in intending to love it.
Make sure to see it for a melancholy summer flick that provides a few laughs, but maybe lower your expectations a bit.