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Wick's Review

Created Jul 16, 2013 11:50PM PST • Edited Mar 23, 2019 07:01PM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Perfect 5.0

    The Way, Way Back is the perfect summer movie from this Summer of `13. It opens and closes with a painfully awkward teen in the late, lamented way-way-back of a 1970 Buick Estate Station Wagon.

    In between he spends a life-changing summer at the beach house of his mom’s asshole boyfriend, played to loathsome perfection by a never better Steve Carell. Fortunately he gets taken under the wing of Sam Rockwell’s carefree water park manager, allowing the boy to break the bad man’s spell by learning from a good man. This avuncular triangle is composed of staggeringly strong performances from two proven moviestars and a terrific new one in Liam James. Carell, Rockwell & James — three outstanding actors.

    Along the way he meets super cute girls, more than his fair share of out-of-control adults and assorted summer vacation characters young and old. The girls are perfect bitches, except one who is way, way cool.

    Nat Faxon and Jim Rash wrote the terrific George Clooney movie The Descendants, but top that accomplishment by writing and directing The Way, Way Back. Hell, they even play two significant characters, both doofuses, which is even funnier when you learn they’re the guys who made the movie.

    The Way, Way Back tops two other great movies that tread nearby territory: Adventureland and last month’s The Kings of Summer, both coming-of-age comedies, the first even in a similar setting.

    Faxon and Rash’s movie is equal parts sad and funny, and distinctly more real than those nearby movies. Such bittersweet reality makes it worthy of being declared a perfect movie. To maintain near-natural realism while also unspooling something so entertaining is to achieve a rare level of cinematic truth.

    The WWB on top of The Kings of Summer makes this the summer of two great coming-of-age movies.

    But the trophy for best summer movie from Summer `13 clearly belongs to The Way, Way Back.

  3. Perfect 5.0

    Given the praise I heaped on Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell and Liam James in the Summary commentary above, let’s start here with the ladies.

    Allison Janney has never been better, which is high praise indeed for the Press Secretary from The West Wing. Playing a lit-up alcoholic in full bloom, she infuriates and tickles in equal measure, ultimately revealing the wounded humanity of her deeply flawed character. Wowza. This is like an extended version of her stunning cameo in Margaret, sans blood and gore of course.

    AnnaSophia Robb plays the aforementioned really cool, really cute girl, daughter of Allison Janney’s character. Remarkably undamaged, yet pummeled by peer pressure from the aforementioned bitches and her sad excuse for a mother, Robb plays her as smarter than she is beautiful. IOW, way, way smart.

    Toni Collette has never been an actress I like, though I may have to change that opinion after her performance as a single mom trying her best to be a lover to a good-catch while not losing her son.

    OK, now a bit more about the leading men.

    Steve Carell opens the movie with just his eyes showing. It’s a fundamentally great scene, as described in the Visuals commentary below. Moreover, I’ve long considered the ability to perform with eyes-alone as a marker of outstanding movie acting. Carell’s got it.

    Sam Rockwell steals the movie as an unambitious semi-ne’er-do-well with a real man’s heart. Rockwell was Best Actor of Summer `09 for his criminally under-recognized performance in MOON. Now he deserves another statuette topped with a sunbrella.

    Liam James joins The Kings of Summer star Nick Robinson as an instant moviestar. Hands perpetually balled into fists of frustration, he’s the very picture of tortured adolescence, only to blossom into a handsomely appealing young man. Hollywood’s got a latent King James on its hands. We are witnesses.

    The strong supporting cast includes:

    • Maya Rudolph as a long suffering kinda girlfriend/workmate.
    • Rob Corddry as an asshole, a role for which he’s typecast.
    • Amanda Peet as an amoral party girl, er, woman.
    • River Alexander as a cross-eyed kid who’s smarter and cooler than those around him know.
    • Zoe Levin as a perfectly bitchy pretty girl.
    • Nat Faxon and Jim Rash as water park employees, one a good-timer, the other comically disgruntled. Oh yeah, they also wrote and directed the movie.
  4. Male Stars Perfect 5.0
  5. Female Stars Perfect 5.0
  6. Female Costars Perfect 5.0
  7. Male Costars Perfect 5.0
  8. Really Great 4.5

    Nat Faxon and Jim Rash!!! Wow.

    Their film deliberately feels vintage, kinda 80s-like, though it’s set in the iPod Touch era. The vintage Buick Wagon certainly sets that way-back tone from the git go.

    Starting and ending this film about a summer vacation with the same scene brings to mind the great Eric Rohmer’s Pauline at the Beach, which opened and closed on the gate to a beach-house. Summer movies should all be so perfectly bookended.

  9. Direction Really Great 4.5
  10. Play Really Great 4.5
  11. Music Very Good 3.5
  12. Visuals Really Great 4.5

    I was gonna go Great on Visuals, but the opening scene where Steve Carell’s eyes are framed in the rear view mirror demanded it get knocked up to Really Great. Just his eyes, the rest of his face never appears in the scene. Carell’s eyes and our adolescent hero stuck in the way, way back of the stationwagon. Carell deserves huge props for having mastered the ultimate moviestar skill of performing with his eyes, but the filmmakers deserve the main props for conceiving the shot and executing the scene.

    Speaking of the car, here’s USA Today on the 1970 Buick Wagon used in the film.

    Water Wizz Water Park really exists on Cape Cod.

  13. Content
  14. Risqué 2.0

    The movie depicts Adults Gone Wild while on vacation at the beach. Unfortunately their adolescent kids are around to watch and get wounded by parental intoxication. Beware if such scenes might wound you, though the movie is instructive in how drunken behavior is only funny to other drunks. To the drunk’s kids? Not so much.

  15. Sex Titillating 2.0
  16. Violence Gentle 1.4
  17. Rudeness Profane 2.6
  18. Glib 1.1

    Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s movie nails the behavior of kids and adults, making it a movie for teens on up. In particular, it shines a light on today’s crop of semi-responsible parents.

  19. Circumstantial Glib 1.4
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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Oct 14, 2013 8:51PM

Regarding BrianSez’s Review
A teen grows “under the tutelage of a mentor who needs some growth himself.” Now that’s a great observation.

Jul 30, 2013 10:55PM

Regarding Tripod’s Review
“I left the theatre wishing I had found the path that would have me running the Water Wizz and married to a boozing broad like Betty.” Now that would’ve been an interesting life.