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 Kings of Summer [2013]

The Kings of Summer [2013]

The Kings of Summer [2013]
Directors: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenplay: Chris Galletta
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Erin Moriarty, Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson
Running Time: 93 minutes

There’s always a girl.

We’ve heard it all before: two best friends who do everything together have their friendship tested when a girl comes between them. True friends are able to overcome such difficulties, but it isn’t always easy.

Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) are two such best friends. Both are growing increasingly detached from their current mundane summer, largely because they can’t stand their parents. Joe’s father, Frank (Nick Offerman, in one of his best performances yet), is a bit of a hard-ass who is miserable to everyone around him because he himself is miserable (this is told to him point blank by his daughter, played by Alison Brie). Patrick’s parents, Mr. (Marc Evan Jackson) and Mrs. Keenan (Megan Mullally), are overprotective and about as square as it gets. They are constantly making groan-worthy comments.

The Kings of Summer [2013]

One day, while walking home from a party, Joe discovers a wide-open space in the middle of the woods. This moment is something of an epiphany for him — in his eyes, this large area would be *perfect* for a house. He gets his buddy Patrick in on the idea, and together with the help of a peculiar peer named Biaggio (Moises Arias), they scavenge materials and begin building their own private hideout. The house actually turns out quite well (it doesn’t fall down, anyway), and the boys decide to run away from their homes altogether and live here for the summer.

It’s here in these woods where the film shines. We get to watch these guys bond in a way that only teenagers can, and they do their best to hunt, gather and otherwise survive on their own. Things get a little rough when Joe invites his current crush, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), to their hideout. Naturally, adding a girl to the equation changes everything, and the friendship between Joe and Patrick is shaken at its core.

The Kings of Summer is very much a “coming of age” film, and a lot of what it sets out to do has been done before. Yet it still manages to be a very enjoyable film overall. The kids, namely all three of the boys, do well in capturing the feelings of youth — who hasn’t, as a kid, wanted to escape from reality and live on their own away from adults? While it may be somewhat less believable today — can teenagers really go days, let alone weeks, without internet access? — the film still nails that fun sense of adventure.

The Kings of Summer [2013]

The cast of young actors are all fun to watch and they should all have bright futures in the business, but the real star of the film is Nick Offerman. It’s always fun to watch him in his comedic roles, but he does so well here in a rare dramatic take. His character does make his fair share of wisecracks, but they come at inopportune times. Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson are also quite good as the hilariously lame parents.

The Kings of Summer has some issues with its script — some of the dialogue is forced, and a few lines feel like they could have been Juno outtakes — but it’s a fun, carefree ride while it lasts. The perfect lighthearted antidote to this summer’s bombastic blockbusters.

8/10

Beer Review: Oberon Ale [Bell’s Brewery]

Oberon Ale [Bell's Brewery]

Oberon Ale
Brewery: Bell’s Brewery [Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA]
Style: American Pale Wheat Ale
ABV: 8.5%

Back in my college heyday, I would drink anything and everything. I was young and wanted to experience it all, for better or for worse. Since I was also majorly broke for those four years, I drank a lot of shit beer. Busch Light, Milwaukees Best, PBR, Miller High Life, Coors Light. If it was cheap, it was usually in our apartment. Every once in a while my roommate and I would pick up something different, usually a less popular — but still cheap — six pack. There was one beer in particular that I fell in love with back then that helped launch my interest into craft brews, and eventually led me to vow to never drink shit beer again. That beer was Oberon, and for that very reason I will always hold a soft spot in my heart for this summer brew.

When I lived in Michigan, the annual release of Oberon meant that spring was finally here and that summer was just around the bend. Oberon was always a safe bet for everyone at the time; beer connoisseurs and non-drinkers alike could usually agree on Oberon when common ground was needed. This isn’t much of a surprise because this is easily one of Bell’s most accessible brews.

As an American wheat ale, Oberon is both light and refreshing. It is perfect for hot summer days, especially when you are trapped inside a non-air conditioned apartment in 97 degree weather. Ahem. Upon revisiting this beer, I noticed milder citrus notes this time, not quite as prominent as I remembered. Orange is most noticeable, although it is still fairly subtle. There are also hints of spicy hops that give this more character. This is an incredibly smooth beer, and it packs a decent amount of punch with its somewhat surprising 5.8% ABV.

Oberon will always remain a sentimental favorite of mine, but I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it again this summer. This is easily one of my favorite summer beers, and I will have to keep some close at hand for future Midwestern heatwaves.

10/10