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

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Release Date: September 28, 2012. Director: Stephen Chbosky. Stars: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller. Runtime: 1hr, 43 min. Tagline: We are infinite.

Not any writer has quite analyzed teen angst as well as John Hughes, but Chbosky comes pretty close.

* Alternate opening hook: And some people said Project X was a good teen film, anyone can take a Super 8 camera and film garbage, but not everyone can create something quite as beautiful as this.

Meet Charlie (Logan Lerman), a young freshman outsider who has to deal with his own inner demons of the past, depression, and loneliness, and the death of his best friend. Charlie is extremely nervous for his first day of high school, and doesn’t want any old nice teacher to be the only friend he makes. He encounters two fellow outcasts, Sam (Emma Watson) and her hysterical step brother Patrick (Ezra Miller). They take him under their wings, show him lessons of love, pain, friendship, belonging, and overcome being a complete wallflower.

Stephen Chbosky directs, and adapts his own novel for the big screen. And he does it quite well. The cast really fits each character, and their performances are awesome for such a young cast.

There are some really cool visuals, like when one of the main characters is on drugs. The writing is brilliant through and through. One can sense that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is set in the 1990s (according to the film’s IMDb trivia page, it’s set during the 1991-92 school year) because of all the vinyl records, wardrobe, mix tapes and not CDs, the typewriter (some of you may not have even heard of this stuff..)and the  older music. This film is a perfect example of a film that offers a great atmosphere, and it’s  one that the viewer can really fall head over heels in love with.

For the majority of people – and high schoolers especially – it’s a film that is very easy to relate to – everyone feels out of place at some point in their lives, don’t they? A lot of the characters are easily relatable; and they are all substantially, and utterly effectively, developed. They all have great depth, and each have some sort of inner demons. When Charlie finally shakes off his inner cloak [feeling] of invisibility (I don’t think it’s a spoiler, it’s obvious he would – and I just had to do the Harry Potter pun), it’s enough to fill you with happiness. Just remember though, these loner kids have dreams too, just like you or me. There is a great sense of poignancy, and can easily cause the viewer to get choked up in several areas because of sensitive subjects. The poignancy is large, and the comedy is also hysterical. The funniest character is definitely Patrick. There’s a lot of romance mixed in, Logan Lerman’s character was kissing people left, right and centre. The mix of genres is beautiful, and the film can definitely make the viewer feel extremely emotional at one point, and fall-off-their-chair-laughing at the next minute. That is always an aspect of films that I truly admire.

The depiction of the high school world feels a little off, because I know I’ve never seen a high school quite so brutal. Granted, the majority of high school films depict it in that fashion, so I can’t hold it against this film for following that cliché.

The three primary actors were extremely impressive, Logan Lerman proved he’s an incredible actor; Emma Watson proved she’s destined for greatness (like you couldn’t already tell, she has great star power); and Ezra Miller proved that he’s a diverse actor that can take on a great list of roles, from the terrifying Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin, to a flamboyant character like Patrick.

Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Johnny Simmons, Nina Dobrev, Mae Whitman, Erin Wilhelmi, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Rudd and Joan Cusack star in this film.

The profound, and unique, analysis of teenage angst is accurate, brilliantly touching, and heartbreakingly poignant. Thinking back, there isn’t a flaw visible in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The performances are great, the story is awesome, and the atmosphere it offers is perfect. It has a cool use of visuals and flashbacks when they are there. It also has a nice use of voice-over narration from Charlie in some scenes. This is a film that I didn’t want to end, and I can’t wait to watch it again (and I didn’t even mind being choked up half the freaking time!). That’s one heck of a definition for an enjoyable experience. It’s one of my favourite experiences and atmospheres of 2012 – it’s a must-see. It’s a fine classic of 2012 that can define a generation as well as John Hughes could.

It deserves to be seen; so get off the couch, grab a few friends – but if you don’t have any, it’s okay to be a wallflower* – and go see this movie!

*For those of you who do not know, a wallflower is just slang for a loner. I certainly didn’t know what it meant before I saw this, so hopefully this may be helpful information.

100/100