Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Way Way Back (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

"The Way, Way Back"

"The Way, Way Back" is a coming of age comedy drama directed by the writing team of  "The Decendants," Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, who also portray minor character roles. This film, despite its extremely familiar content of an awkward kid at odds, will sneak up on you and yank on your heart solely through the strength of its actors.

Liam James ( Psych) stars as Duncan, a pale fourteen year old with a metaphysical weight on his shoulders who does not fit in. James bears a striking resemblance to Bud Cort in "Harold & Maude." One look at his paper-white face is to feel hopeless tension and loss. Duncan is in tow with his mom (Toni Collette) traveling to a summer cottage with every mom's boyfriend-you love to hate, Trent  (Steve Carell). Trent represents virtually  every single thing that would make us say "Eww!" He is anal, superficial, uncaring and a sexist womanizer. His only whisper of a saving grace is that he wants to care, but his attempt at compassion is a mere feint. Despite his forbidding defects Trent is ultimately believable as is the entire cast.

Duncan goes on dreary outings and is treated with condescension---all but ignored. At one such misadventure, he wears a needless and bulky neon life preserver. Earlier, Trent gives him a demeaning numerical grade of  a 3 out of 10. The walls close in.

On a whim, Duncan catches sight of a water park whose bright blue watersides strike him as mazes of liberation. They are nothing less than curves of freedom. He sees a foxy and boyish man (Sam Rockwell) playing Pac-Man, and is struck by the man's devil may care attitude.

Duncan is hooked.

The bohemian stranger turns out to be the owner of the water park, Owen, and he is drawn in by Duncan's curiosity and offers Duncan a pool boy job. Sam Rockwell almost steals this film. Not only is he very funny but his body has an exuberance that has not been visible in other films. Rockwell's face has actual mischief within it and like Melissa McCarthy, we are never sure how far he is going to go. That is part of the fun.

Also poignant is the bit part of Peter (River Alexander)  who is patronized and made self conscious about his left eye by his shallow mom (Allison Janney). River Alexander is a glib riot.

While some sequences are predictable (the showdown with "Mr Man" Trent) the sequences move at a rapid pace and never appear routine.

There is some nostalgic and poetic haunt in the Water Wizz park itself, a ramshackle third rate Disney imitation which nonetheless retains a Bradbury sense of charm for a young boy surrounded by such supercilious and stunted adults. Some water slide scenes are shot with an odd sense of apprehension and suspense that recall an early Spielberg thriller, as if the coils of the slide represent a shark-monster to be conquered by the teenage ego. And, indeed that is what the coils are in this film and arguably in life.

Directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon make appearances as a snide Don Knotts type and a sex obsessed beach boy respectively, but the real spark is watching the wolfish Sam Rockwell portray his surreptitiously touching spirit under a guise of irresponsibility and  guile. Such moments make "The Way, Way Back" an easy, yet emotional course to take.

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