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Sundance 2013 Movie Review: The Way, Way Back

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Following up your own Oscar win is no easy task. It took Ben Affleck 10 years between Good Will Hunting and Gone Baby Gone but now the man has given us 2012’s best film with Argo. While the team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash were on a completely different page from Affleck when they co-wrote The Descendants, they’ve followed up their own film with one of the best premieres I’ve seen in my four years covering the Sundance Film Festival in The Way, Way Back.

Duncan (Liam James) is loaded up in back of the family truckster with his mom Pam (Toni Collette) and her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), and Trent’s daughter Steph (Zoe Levin). Together they’re headed to Trent’s beach house to spend the summer. Duncan just wanted to spend the summer with his dad, but instead he’s stuck with Trent. The two don’t like each other, which is clear after the opening scene as they have a conversation where Trent asks Duncan to rate himself from one to 10. Duncan declares himself a six, but Trent shoots him down to a three.

After being greeted by their alcoholic neighbor Better (Allison Janney), along with her kids Pete (River Alexander) and Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), it’s survival of the wittiest as Duncan figures a few things out about Trent while dealing with becoming less socially awkward working at the local water park, Water Wizz. The park is run by Owen (Sam Rockwell) who just wants to have a good time, and Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph) who does her best to keep Owen roped in. Roddy (Faxon) shows Duncan the ropes and how to check out the hot chicks and Lewis (Rash) faces another summer that may be his last at the park. Between dealing with Trent, getting friendly with Susanna, and facing his own coming of age at work, it’s a summer Duncan will never forget.

If I had to describe it, I would say The Way, Way Back as a combination of Meatballs, Summer Rental, About a Boy, and Adventureland. The spirit of ’80s teen comedies is in full force and even during a Q&A with Rash after the film (Faxon had to return to L.A. for work), he made it clear that their biggest inspiration was in fact Meatballs and of course John Hughes. The cast is a dream come true for anyone trying to make a heartfelt comedy.

Special kudos to Faxon and Rash for being able to, as Bill Hader said in Knocked Up, “make Steve Carell look like an asshole.” Well, his character at least. But the real find here is Liam James. He truly knocks it out of the park and manages to make Duncan’s transformation realistic and engaging. Sam Rockwell is in hyper-drive and Maya Rudolph can get huge laughs from just a look. And of course Faxon and Rash get their own moments to shine in the comedy spotlight with Rash getting one of the biggest laughs in the whole movie. It is their show after all. And seeing how The Way, Way Back has been picked up by Fox Searchlight, Sundance’s and possibly the year’s funniest film, will be headed to a theater near you.

Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

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About Cinenerd

A Utah based writer, born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT for better and worse. Cinenerd has had an obsession with film his entire life, finally able to write about them since 2009, and the only thing he loves more are his wife and their two wiener dogs (Beatrix Kiddo and Pixar Animation). He is accredited with the Sundance Film Festival.