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This indie coming-of-age drama/comedy is significantly more interesting than it has any right to be...
Fox / 103 Minutes / 2013 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: October 22, 2013
The grandest accolade one is compelled to give The Way, Way Back is that somehow this movie feels significantly fresher than its subject matter appears in synopsis. Trailers – and even the films poster and Blu-ray box art – make it look like Little Miss Sunshine 2, an angsty tale of retro youth in rebellion, a story of a misunderstood young boy trying to find authenticity in the swamps of 1970s suburbia.
The Way, Way Backis about this, to be sure, but directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are able to mine such inventively ancillary material out of their mundane dramatic milieu that one doesn’t pay much attention to it. It’s the kind of picture that’s more of an emotional travelogue than it is a purposefully-plotted piece of cinematic nostalgia – regardless of how Fox decided to promote it, The Way, Way Back is way more Virgin Suicides and Almost Famous than it is Little Miss Sunshine or (ugh) Juno, and that suits it just fine.
The location of the film’s title is that most remote part of the family station wagon, and very early on in The Way, Way Back we meet young Duncan (Liam James) back there, mopey and filled with ennui as the family heads out on a trip. They’re headed off to Trent’s (Steve Carell’s) house out on the beach – Trent is mom’s (Toni Collette’s) beau – and Duncan really doesn’t seem to want to be along for the ride. Once he arrives, Duncan guides us through the swatch of folks who are now his neighbors, and this voyage is the meat and potatoes of the movie’s overall import.
In short, The Way, Way Back works. Many of the characters on display here dip heavily into cliché, and as the movie reaches its final moments, it gets clever and precocious in an unflattering way, but most of its running time is spent investigating ideas of adolescent challenges with smart, bristling candor. And with a shockingly good supporting cast – Maya Rudolph, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney – it’s difficult not to succumb to its wonderfully fully-formed feel.