Thursday, February 2, 2017

Directorial Debut: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash's THE WAY WAY BACK

Welcome to a new installment of DIRECTORIAL DEBUTS, where we look at some of the best, most interesting, and iconic directors and the films that started their careers. This week The Merc reviews the fantastic coming-of-age film by Nat Faxon and Jim Rush, THE WAY WAY BACK.

I recently rewatched this film (for the third time) and i have to say, I enjoyed it even more than the first and second times around, which I didn't think was possible.  An instant hit at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, The Way Way Back is a nice mixture of a coming-of-age comedy and a dysfunctional family drama.  Filled with smart writing and a great cast, this film was definitely a hidden gem of that summer movie season.

This film follows a socially awkward 14-year old named Duncan who goes on summer vacation with his mother, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend's daughter.  Finding it difficult to fit in and have fun, Duncan unexpectedly befriends the manager of a local water park.  This friendship allows them both to grow as people and changes their lives forever.

The Way Way Back was written and directed by funnymen Nat Faxon (Ben and Kate) and Jim Rash (Community).  This is the duo's directorial debut, and a very successful one at that, if I do say so myself.  Now, you may recognize these names from a little movie they helped write (and won an Oscar for) called The Descendants, starring George Clooney and Shailene Woodley.  This film is definitely similar in tone to The Descendants but is, in my opinion, even better.

Liam James plays the main character, Duncan.  You may recognize him from some of his films like Good Luck ChuckFred Claus, and 2012, but his most notable roles are Young Shawn on the TV series, Psych, and his role as Jack Linden on The Killing.  I really enjoyed his performance as the shy, awkward kid on vacation, and his chemistry with the bigger named actors in this film was very believable.  Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2, Moon) plays Owen, the manager of the Water Wizz water park, who befriends Duncan and teaches him that there's more to enjoy in life.  He was by-far my favorite character in the film, with his quick-witted humor and wonderful acting.  I would love to see him in more films where he can showcase those talents.

The character I liked the least (though, not because of the performance) was Trent, the boyfriend of Duncan's mom, played by Steve Carell.  This was a very different role for Carell at the time, who usually plays the likable funny guy.  Trent is neither of those things.  He is a condescending, arrogant jerk, the type of person you just want to slap, but Carell plays him brilliantly.  We also get good performances from Toni Collette (Hostages), Allison Janney (The Help), AnnaSophia Robb (The Carrie Diaries), and Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids).

This is such a wonderful, heartfelt movie.  It was my favorite film of that year and remains one of my favorites to this day.  If you haven't seen this one yet, do yourself a favor and watch it.  I will definitely be recommending this film to my friends and family, and hopefully you will too.

The Merc's Score:  9/10

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