The Way Way Back (2013)

The Way, Way BackReleased: July 5, 2013. Directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Starring: Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette. Runtime: 103 min.

As I’m sure you’ve been able to tell; I love coming-of-age movies. Well, I love movies in general – but I find myself really enjoying movies like these. I think there’s something important about finding one’s place in the world; or even if it just means gaining confidence and growing as a person. The latest movie to the coming-of-age summer movie cannon is “The Way Way Back” helmed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

Now, it may seem like I’ve seen Faxon through an unfair eye, mostly because I’ve said “who is surprisingly an Oscar winner” time and time again. Is it unfair that I was surprised to hear he has won an Oscar? I don’t think so. If one only looked at his on-screen filmography prior to this, he’s been in such mediocre hits as “Slackers,” “Club Dread,” “Beerfest,” “Bad Teacher” and “The Slammin’ Salmon.” Now, I don’t think any of those scream, or even whisper, Oscar contenders. He just doesn’t seem like he’d be pinned as an Oscar winner. (By the way, both he and Rash have won their Oscars for co-writing “The Descendants.”)

Both have definitely made a splash in the writing department, and this is no different. They’ve grown from being That One Guy Who Shows Up in the Broken Lizard Movies and the Dean on “Community,” to real above-average filmmakers that I love (but it’s not as if I didn’t like them before). I guess you could say, in my eyes, they’ve come of age in terms of their careers.

The story concerns Duncan (Liam James), a fourteen year-old boy who is dragged to a summer vacation spot with his mother (Toni Collette) and her over-bearing boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Duncan has a rough time fitting in, but he finds a friend in the manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell) of the Water Wizz water park.

Faxon and Rash design the film like experts. As soon as we’re introduced to the characters, they’re either instantly likeable, or you’ll just as instantly get a bad feeling about them. The only character one will get a sudden bad feeling about is Trent, portrayed by Carell. That’s his purpose. He’s the sort-of character that will be a total dick just because he can. When crappy situations happen, his mindset is to simply forget about them the next day. Carell plays the character well. Take Carell’s Burt Wonderstone and subtract the obnoxious way about him; replace it with the everyday soon-to-be stepfather, and you have the biggest dick in the movie, Trent. He plays a major role in stalling Duncan’s confidence.

Toni Collette’s Pam (Duncan’s mom) is usually likeable. Like most of the adults in the film, they take their kids along with them to this vacation spot. As one character puts it, “it’s Spring Break for adults.” This expresses the selfishness of many adults in the film (save the workers at Water Wizz, but more on that later). They’ll party and have a good time, but they won’t bother to include the children. That is very much the case with Allison Janney’s eccentric performance of Betty, mother of Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), and Peter (River Alexander), where she constantly points out his horrible case of lazy eye. The actress is hard not to love, even when she’s criticizing a character. It’s the way some mothers do, and it’s downright hilarious for the audience.

Of course, there is Duncan. The hero of the film. He has a difficult time feeling he belongs. He’s awkward and shy, which it seems many can be at the age of fourteen. (Like I was.) But he grows as a person throughout the film and it’s a treat to watch. We get to see the good, the bad and the ugly of adolescence through his eyes, and just like the tagline states, “we’ve all been there.” The ugly is, of course, his stepfather. He’s also the bad. The good is Water Wizz water park and Susanna. (A potential love interest of Duncan’s, and she’s older, to boot!)

He meets Rockwell’s Owen, a person who teaches him that it’ll get better and makes him feel welcome. He offers him a job at Water Wizz, and he slowly gets Duncan out of his shell. Owen is the type of person that can make anyone feel welcome. He jokes about everything. He’s the type of person everybody knows. He could be your uncle (my Uncle Danny in my case), a father or a best friend. Sometimes his constant jokery gets in the way of personal interests (mainly Maya Rudolph’s character), but he’s the type of shoulder everybody needs at some point in their lives.

“The Way Way Back” might not pack the largest emotional punch. It didn’t make me cry, though I was close. Perhaps I wasn’t in the crying mood? Compared to the other coming-of-age movies so far this year, there’s more of a punch than “The Kings of Summer,” but less than “Mud.” More than a few scenes in the film pull at the heartstrings, and this is an uplifting and well-acted tale. It’s entertaining, hilarious and very enjoyable, if a little light-hearted at times.

Liam James may not be the strongest performer out of the bunch (who could be against Rockwell, Carell, Collette, Janney, Robb, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet?!), but he has a timid charm about him. He shows promise, especially because his eyes are super expressive. I’ve always been attracted to Robb’s delicate kindness about her, and the characters she portrays. I want to see more of her.

Rash and Faxon show up in supporting turns as employees at the Water Wizz water park. Jim Rash plays a hilarious germaphobe named Lewis; Faxon is another employee named Roddy, master of the holding technique where he asks hot girls to wait to use the slide. These two truly understand what being a teen is like, because, like everyone else, they’ve been there. Faxon and Rash, and Stephen Chbosky (author, writer/director of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), may be their generation’s John Hughes. We’ll see in time.

One last thing. There is a concept of going your own way in this film. Characters are taught to not follow patterns and to choose their own path. There’s a point where characters (minor and major) are trying to pass each other in a water slide. Perhaps this is only boys will be boys tom-foolery. Maybe it’s about doing things differently, not following the norm, and making your own path. I’m not certain; it’s ambiguous and that’s the purpose. I am sure, though, that Faxon and Rash have penned a smart coming-of-age dramedy.

Score90/100

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The Babymakers (2012)

The BabymakersRelease Date: August 24, 2012

Director: Jay Chandrasekhar

Stars: Paul Schneider, Olivia Munn, Kevin Heffernan

Runtime: 95 min

Everyone likes a good comedy that doesn’t make them think every once in awhile, right? I call them brain vacations. I love them as much as the next guy – but the keyword is a good comedy. A good comedy, THE BABYMAKERS is not.

The movie follows Tommy (Paul Schneider), a man who cannot impregnate his wife. (His sperm has fallen and it can’t get up.) He decides to enlist the help of his buddies to steal some sperm he donated a few years ago.

From the get go, I should have known this would be a tedious experience for me. I guess I was blinded by my love for the Broken Lizard crew – and their involvement in any project. They’re only slightly involved, here. They don’t have a hand in the writing. Jay Chandrasekhar directs and helps produce; Kevin Heffernan helps produce, and he is one of the supporting actors. Oscar-winning Nat Faxon brings in a supporting turn, as well – and while he isn’t part of the main Broken Lizard crew, he often shows up in their movies. He was that one villain in BEERFEST with the horrid German accent. Like that narrows it down, right? And yes, you did read *Oscar-winning* correctly; he won it for co-writing the screenplay for THE DESCENDANTS, alongside Alexander Payne and the Dean on TV’s COMMUNITY, Jim Rash. (He’s actually a talented writer – and I’m quite excited for Faxon & Rash’s co-directorial debut, THE WAY, WAY BACK.) Anyway, as much as I love the Broken Lizard movies, this movie isn’t good. It seriously needs their writing.

I think I laughed a total of four or five times. The Jehova’s Witness scene feels like a very honest portrayal of their interruptions of everyday activities. The humour is shallow, and it’s mostly just a movie younger boys might enjoy. I think this movie might have worked a lot better if the whole Broken Lizard crew came aboard – but that might not even help. Chandrasekhar and Heffernan weren’t able to make me laugh a lot because of its predictable humour, inane plotting and poor writing. One of the stupidest things about the movie is the robbery itself. Honestly… If one robs a sperm bank and only takes one vial of sperm; who might the prime suspect be? Gee, I don’t know… I also don’t think Paul Schneider is a likeable enough lead to carry this film well. Nor is he very funny. He might be good in other movies, but based on what I’ve seen of him so far, I’m not impressed.

This movie just falls flat on its unfunny face. There’s an evident plot, but it isn’t a particularly good one. It’s a very stupid heist movie. You probably haven’t heard of this, but if you have, just take it off your watchlist. It’s a colossal waste of time. By the end of it all, you really just won’t care any more if they have a baby or not. The sexy Olivia Munn can’t even save this. Nor those cantaloupes. (Not her boobs. There’s a running joke of cantaloupes on a magazine cover getting everyone horny.)

30/100

Beerfest – A film review by Daniel Prinn – It suffers from a lack of charm and plot.

Beerfest

Release Date: August 25, 2006

Director: Jay Chandrasekhar

Stars: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme

Runtime: 110 min

Tagline: Bring on the beer. They’ve got the nuts.

They certainly brought on some beer, but they didn’t bring us a lot of laughs.

Two brothers, Jan and Todd Wolfhouse, must travel to Munich for a traditional ceremony after the death of their grandfather. The ceremony is to put the urn of their grandfather’s ashes among the other urns of their ancestors, at Oktoberfest. After things go awry at Oktoberfest, their contact brings them to an underground beer games competition called Beerfest, often described as the ‘Fight Club’ of the beer drinking universe. There, they meet some nasty Germans who turn out to be their distant cousins, who accuse their grandfather of being a thief and their Great grandmother (Gam Gam) of being an old fashioned whore. They lasso up a beer drinking team, to get payback for the defilement of their family name, at next year’s Beerfest.

I’m writing this review after numerous watches, it used to sort of always be a guilty pleasure – that is, until I really knew how to look for a solid plot. That being said, the plot is pretty ridiculous here; I mean, I like my comedies with at least some strand of plot. I was expecting more from the creator of Super Troopers.

I’ll start with the positives. When it is funny, it usually is very funny. Some of the jokes are quite hit and miss, but a lot hit. Some of the characters you can get attached to, despite each of their annoying mannerisms. Landfill was my favourite here, but the actor is also my favourite of the Broken Lizard comedy team, so that may have a large influence. Another redeeming quality, though, is the (little bit of) nudity.

Unfortunately, now I have to tear this former guilty pleasure of mine apart. The gallons and gallons of beer very much outweigh the lack of laughs given to us throughout the feature; there definitely isn’t a laugh per minute. Some of the characters are just really, really obnoxious and irritating; especially some characters on the German team. Though, the character played by Will Forte was pretty funny. It is also quite a bit lengthy and overstays its welcome for a comedy that hardly has a great plot. It is sometimes had to bare through, because some of it is just so unfunny and irritating. It’s really too bad that the team couldn’t insert a whole lot of charm into this, like they did with Super Troopers.

Beerfest stars the Broken Lizard comedy team (creators of Super Troopers), Cloris Leachman, Will Forte, Nat Faxon, Eric Christian Olsen, Mo’Nique and Donald Sutherland.

Beerfest doesn’t offer a whole lot of laughs, but there are a few memorable ones. It’s a poor endeavour by the team; but can be enjoyable for frat comedy fans. It’s a fairly effective college comedy; that instead of teens, grown men are drinking the beers. My suggestion is to, like those guys in the film, see this drunk. It should help enhance more enjoyment.

When I loved this, I would have given it a 70, but now I’d give it a 50. So, in all fairness, I’ll meet in the middle.

60/100