Movie Review: The Way, Way Back [2013]

The Way, Way Back [2013]

The Way, Way Back [2013]
Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James
Running Time: 103 minutes

At first glance, The Way, Way Back appears to be a relatively formulaic “coming of age” film, and to some extent it is. Yet it manages to take this well-worn genre and turn it into one of the most satisfying movies of the summer.

Liam James stars as Duncan, our socially awkward 14-year-old protagonist who is dragged along on a summer vacation with his family. His recently-divorced mother, Pam (a marvelous Toni Collette), her new douche-y boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his just-as-awful teenage daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin), all hop in a vintage station wagon and hit the road.

The Way, Way Back [2013]

Their destination is Trent’s oceanside beach house, and the resort town almost instantaneously turns into a “spring break for adults.” Their neighbor next door, Betty (a hilariously inappropriate Allison Janney), always has a drink in her hand, and other nearby friends, Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet), are frequent patrons to their beachside parties. While the adults are drinking and dancing to 80s tunes, Duncan is left feeling more isolated than ever.

Through the film’s early stages, we are continually shown examples of just how much Duncan is struggling to adapt to his developing adolescence. He is shy and struggles to talk to others, including the cute girl next door, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb). He is also desperately seeking some type of father figure, and it’s clear that Trent’s arrogant attitude is not a good fit. In the very first scene, Trent asks Duncan (or “buddy” as he demeaningly calls him) how he would rate himself on a scale of 1-10. Duncan, after much deliberation, frustratingly answers a “6”. Trent immediately rebuts this by stating that Duncan’s lack of motivation makes him more of a “3” in his eyes. Yeah, he’s kind of a dick.

The Way, Way Back [2013]

The movie hits its stride when Duncan meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), the free-spirited manager of the local water park, Water Wizz. Owen (and the other employees, including the more “professional” Maya Rudolph) slowly draws Duncan out of his shell by giving him a job at the park and acting as a type of father figure. Rockwell is terrific in this role, playing a character that is a bit of a “man-child” yet utterly kind to everyone he meets.

Writer/director duo Nat Faxon (of “Ben and Kate”) and Jim Rash (“Community”), both of whom also have hilarious supporting roles as park staff members, have put together a very enjoyable first effort. The Way, Way Back may feel overly familiar at times, but it still manages to be quite the crowd-pleaser. This is a film that will make you laugh, and possibly cry, and there’s no doubt that it will keep you entertained.

8/10

Movie Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower [2011]

The Perks of Being a Wallflower [2011]

The Perks of Being a Wallflower [2011]
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Genre: Drama/Romance
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller
Runtime: 103 minutes

It’s not often that someone is able to write a (successful) novel and then both write and direct a film adaptation of that work, but that’s exactly what Stephen Chbosky did with The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The popular young-adult novel was published in 1999, and after taking on such projects as writing the screenplay for Rent and co-creating the CBS show, Jericho, Chbosky went back to his roots and brought us this adaptation.

The film follows the life of an insecure, shy 14-year-old named Charlie (Logan Lerman), who has suffered a series of traumatic events in his childhood. Now emotionally scarred, Charlie is anxious about entering high school, and he struggles to make friends (outside of his English teacher, played by Paul Rudd). Eventually, he finds solace in the form of two eccentric seniors: Sam (Emma Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller). They introduce him to new music (i.e. The Smiths, a staple of this type of film) and invite him to hang out with their group of friends, who they lovingly dub “The Island of Misfit Toys.” This includes a Buddhist punk (Mae Whitman), a blonde goth (Erin Wilhelmi) and a brownie-loving stoner (Adam Hagenbuch). Charlie fits right in with the group, and they help give him the type of friendship he so desperately needs.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower [2011]

At its core, this is a basic coming-of-age story, but Chbosky places a greater emphasis on emotions and the feeling of alienation. Everyone in Charlie’s newfound group of friends is alienated in some fashion. Sam has self esteem issues, and she has a habit of turning to older men for acceptance. Patrick is openly gay but is in an awkward secretive relationship with a jock who is afraid to come out. Charlie himself has been in-and-out of mental hospitals due to prior traumatic experiences. In a way, it seems the only thing keeping these kids going is each other.

Anyone who ever felt this way as an adolescent (and really, who hasn’t?) will be able to empathize with these characters. Since Chbosky wrote and directed his own work, he was able to present this in his total vision. The writing is sharp and witty, and the dialogue is delivered perfectly by an undeniably strong cast of up-and-coming talent.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower [2011]

Folks, keep an eye on the trio of Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller. These three have fantastic chemistry together in this film, and as individual performances, all of them impress. It’s great to see Watson step out after the Harry Potter series, and Miller builds upon his fantastic take as the demonic Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin. But best of all — and most surprising — is Lerman in the lead role. I haven’t seen any of his recent work, but he is most impressive in showing Charlie slowly coming out of his shell while still maintaining his emotional scars.

My only problems with the film are minor ones. As a high school coming-of-age story, it does rely a bit too much on familiar tropes of the genre (i.e. being cool for liking bands like The Smiths and showing a love of foreign film). There is also one moment that I still can’t wrap my head around. David Bowie’s song “Heroes” plays an integral part of the film, and the characters are all clueless when they hear this song on the radio. How can a group of kids that are so in tune with “underground” music not know one of David Bowie’s biggest hits? Given the importance of the song to plot development, it seems a bit puzzling as to its selection.

Still, small issues aside, I quite enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and I suspect that most will as well. I have never read the novel, but now I would like to, and that doesn’t happen often for me.

8/10