The best thing, worst thing, and main thing, about “The Way, Way Back” in about the time it takes to watch the trailer.
Dear Sam Rockwell, please be in every movie from here on out, sincerely all of us.
“The Way Way Back” is the story of a misfit teenage boy trying desperately to adapt to a newly blended family while vacationing together and what happens when he finds an unexpected friend at a nearby water park. It stars a cavalcade of notable performers including Allison Janney, Steve Carrell, Maya Rudolph, and Sam Rockwell. And let’s just get this love fest out of the way at the beginning.
Sam Rockwell is pitch perfect in this and yes my best thing about the movie. He is a blast to watch in this as the eternal adolescent adult who just wants to have a pure hearted good time. I’ve been falling in love with Rockwell for a while, but every line out of his mouth in this movie confirmed my undying affection completely warranted. He’s not the only one doing great work either. Carrel is finding a real rhythm playing these understated roles and despite the disdain he earns as the hypocritical step dad here it never feels over the top or too broad. I’d also like to give a brief nod to Annasophia Robb (who you may remember from Bridge to Terabithia or Soul Surfer) who is really good as the neighbor girl who breaks through our awkward protagonists barriers despite the mocking of her one time friends. But of course the acting would be mute without a great story to put it in and this is a beautiful one about what it means to grow, adapt, and strengthen even as the world shakes around you. Not that a “coming of age” tale is a new thing, but it’s told wonderfully here, and maintains a sense of fun throughout even as the serious drama starts to unfold. In fact, it flips so easily from drama to comedy and back, I’m not sure what cell the genre police would choose to lock it in, I end up seeing it more as a drama with a lot of good laughs, as opposed to a comedy with some good cries. But either way it works incredibly well.
The only thing I didn’t like, and therefore my worst thing, were some of the other kid performances. Not our main teenagers, but specifically there were three kids at the waterpark and another son of a neighbor who every time they opened their mouths it dripped “acting” and not reality. It was a big enough thing to me that it took me out of the flow of the film a few times and therefore is certainly worth bringing up.
At the end of the day though, despite those kids and an overused premise, the movie lands solidly. Taking the time to both wrench your heart and then refill it to the brim. Add in another killer performance by Mr. Rockwell and I’m sticking The Way Way Back with an A-.
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