Quirky indie comedies are a dime a dozen these days, and their popularity has soared since films like ‘Juno’ and ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ took Oscar by storm. Now it feels like every year there is that one film that is trying to be ‘Juno’. Earlier this year, we got a small film called ‘The Way Way Back’ that many were toting as the next big indie Oscar breakthrough, but the trailer gave me heed. It just looked too light for Oscar. Reviews confirmed that speculation.
But not every movie needs to be an Oscar movie.
‘The Way Way Back’ suffers from one major issue; it feels like two movies. There is the darkly enlightening portrait of Duncan’s home life (vacation life) with his mother and her creepy boyfriend, and then there is a very tonally different film, that of a young boy coming into his own skin as he starts working at a water park. I wish that the two halves met better in the middle, but when they attempt to (like in that awkward finale) things get even worse. Separate, they work to varying degrees, but ultimately the first film is far better than the second and quite honestly you can feel the quality of the film drop every time Duncan goes to the water park, despite the fact that Sam Rockwell is the best thing about the film.
He just doesn’t fit.
The film tells the story of a young 14-year-old boy whose father abandoned him and his mother for a younger woman. Now he is stuck in summer vacation with his mother and her new boyfriend and his daughter. The new boyfriend, Trent, doesn’t even try to hide his douchbaggery, and yet Duncan’s mother seems to ignore it for her own illusion of happiness. While wasting away at Trent’s beach house, Duncan strikes up a small romance with the neighbor girl and begins to work at a water park when he befriends a childish man named Owen who, well, refuses to care about much of anything.
There is a lot of potential here and yet none of it truly comes together like it should have. It is an enjoyable film that lacks the connective tissue to make it a good film. The ensemble is spectacular though, with each performer really nailing their respective character. I just wish that the film felt more cohesive, and I wish that ridiculous final scene with the tubes was omitted entirely. ‘The Way Way Back’ has a sweet spot, and there is a tenderness and an honesty that permeates much of the darker aspects of the film (the blowout over Trent’s indiscretions feels so rich poignancy, especially when you couple it with Pam’s immediate reaction), but this is a prime example of a filmmaker (or filmmakers) who didn’t quite know how to express all their ideas at once.
And was I the only one who was confused about the decade this took place? Like, I swore this was the 70’s or something like that until they hit the water park and kids started krumping.
Anyways, I can’t say I don’t recommend it because it has its perks, but overall this is an uneven venture that missed a lot of key opportunities to be something better than it is.
I give this a C. As far as Oscar is concerned, this doesn't have a prayer, but critics can fawn over indie comedies and this could net a few Screenplay, Ensemble or even Picture mentions from certain groups, but I don't see it going any further than that.