What is it about scenes of beach towns in upstate NY or New England that cause Canadians (like myself) to drool and fantasize about the idyllic all-American lifestyle? (It's true, it happens and if a Canadian doesn't admit to it, they're lying.) A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to attend an advance screening for The Way Way Back, a movie starring Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Amanda Peet, Toni Collette, Maya Rudolph and Anna Sophia Robb (Bridge to Terabethia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Really, the movie is anything but an idyllic picture of american childhood, but writer/director duo Jim Rash and Nat Faxon manage capture that quintessential appeal of the american dream; when you find your own way, everything will work out in the end.
From the road trip to the sea in the 1980's station wagon, to the slamming screen door of the clapboard beach house, the espadrilles, the cut off shorts and the July 4th Celebration, it's a movie about summer, family and the universal anguish that stems from an adolescent life lesson we probably all remember; you don't have to conquer the world alone.
Duncan, 14, played by Liam James (2012, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) struggles to come to terms with his mother's (Collette) new relationship with Trent (Carell) while a guest at Trent's family beach house in upstate NY. In an unanticipated role from Carell, who plays an asshole of a father figure, we can remember what it's like to live in a teenage world where you're always wrong, misunderstood, and can never shout loudly enough to be heard over the hypocrisy of your parents.
The family cottage itself (appropriately dubbed "The Riptide") is rustic, nostalgic and transparent; everyone's business is everyone's business along this strip of the ocean front. In fact, it's as if the characters buy into the community aspect of sharing dirty laundry while living in a beach town during the summer - which is probably part of the movie's magic given that you're able to fall in love with the concept of a dysfunctional family. In this movie, the dysfunctional family becomes something you want to be a part of so that you can take part in the neighbourhood clam bake.
James' role as Duncan is so convincing that memories both awkward and lonely of your own teenage years will begin to bubble up from the areas of your subconscious you thought you had erased when you left high school behind.
Just when you can't take another minute of the ugly-step father injustice, Duncan meets Owen (Sam Rockwell) the 30-something loveable big-brother type who has been the manager of Water Whiz water park since (probably) the early 1990's. The water park is dilapidated and the stuff that lawsuits are made of, but it's welcoming and worry free; a safe haven for Duncan who begins to come into his own under Owen's coaxing and carefree nature.
Over all, the movie evokes so much nostalgia - it must be a movie for those of us who have already gone through the teenage years. Mainly because the plight and emotion which gives the movie most of its appeal, would be lost on a younger generation who lacks hindsight. We know now that these are the years that build us, and the summers that for better or worse are most etched into our memories.
You could criticize Rash and Faxon for making weak lead female roles - but you'd quickly realize that it's not a movie that tries to paint a rosy glow, or make things up for the sake of plot lines. In the end, all stereotypes played out by both genders only make the movie more realistic.
As an outsider it would be easy for me to criticize the all-american appeal of this movie, but instead, I'm left wanting more of that elixir that encourages you to stand up, take charge and persevere through some of the hardest life lessons. This is such a well written yet simple movie it's hard to accurately pin point just what makes it so excellent - except for the fact that everyone wants to come out on the other side of childhood as their own winner.
The Way Way Back comes to theatres July 5. Seriously a movie for summer so make sure you check it out & let me know what you think!
the perks of a free screening, merch! ^^