With the impending award season upon us, I'm crossing my fingers for a film that was probably missed by most, and very nearly passed me by. But it's ended up being one of my favourite films for many years. Funny, brilliant, simple and heart-felt The Way Way Back was leagues ahead of any other film I saw in 2013.
It's a Summer vacation that's doomed to fail. Recent couple Trent and Pam (Steve Carrel and Toni Collette) are trying to make a family with their respective children from previous disaster marriages. Duncan, played by young Liam James, is caught in the middle, refusing to accept jerk Trent as a new step-dad. He finds comfort in a water park under Owen's management (Sam Rockwell) who takes up the task of being a reluctant male mentor. The result is a hilarious and heart-warming film.
Written and directed by Jim Nash and Nat Faxon, whose previous highly-acclaimed credits include The Descendants, which I absolutely despised. But The Way Way Back is a much more robust film, supported by an ensemble cast who are performing at their peak. Steve Carrel, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph and the brilliant and young Liam James are incredible. Sam Rockwell deserves an Oscar.
In recent years, Juno and Little Miss Sunshine have broken the mould on comedies. While the endless onslaught of Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler and Jennifer Anniston dish out the same watered down comedy tripe time and time again with big budgets, slightly more indie titles offer a pleasing alternative. They also manage to grasp an essential rule of comedy that others frequently miss: Comedy should be funny.
The drama that lies within The Way Way Back is under-stated and superbly written. A lot is left up to the actors, who fill in the subtext expertly. This is a film that presumes its audience is intelligent.
It's also an important statement on men, and male mentorships. Duncan is a teenager caught at a critical age, surrounded by a holy trinity of male figures that often confronts the white middle-class young boy: the absent father, the clumsy step-father, the flawed hedonistic man-child. The film navigates a path through these issues in a meaningful and realistic way.
Honestly, if you haven't seen it, do. And for goodness sake give it some awards, please. It's one of my favourite films of all time.