BY EMILY GAGNE
Just as we all know there will be a CGI superhero movie out around the time school’s out, I know that every summer there will be one indie dramedy that brings the heat, despite the air-conditioning.
Last year, that film was Sarah Polley’s gorgeous, thought-provoking Take This Waltz. A few years before that, it was the little movie that could, Little Miss Sunshine. This summer the must-see indie is most definitely The Way, Way Back, the latest heartwarming slice of hilarity from Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, Oscar-winning writers of The Descendants.
Although there is certainly darker tones to The Way, Way Back, including what may be the most uncomfortable game of Candyland I have yet to witness, it is generally a ray of pure, unfiltered joy, with a particularly bright light shining on the whip-smart writing. The film is a traditional coming-of-age story really — a wayward teen (Liam James) finds while working at a waterpark called Water Wizz, where an effortlessly cool guy (Sam Rockwell) takes him under his wing — but it feels unquestionably fresh in terms of its riotously raw humour, expectation-pushing performances and breezy, yet bright cinematography.
Like The Descendants, The Way, Way Back deals with people as they attempt to deal with themselves and the feelings they, for whatever reason, are holding them back from moving on to something big, better and more them. The story mainly centres on Duncan’s (James) mission to actually connect with people — his coworkers (Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Faxon, Rash), a certain special girl (Anna Sophia Robb of TV’s The Carrie Diaries), his emotionally floundering mother Pam (Toni Collette) — and in turn, get out of his extremely antisocial shell for the summer, but some of the most engaging bits are the similarly-themed sidestories.
Even the characters that seem to serve simply as comic relief, like the insanely charming Rockwell, have emotional moments, and ones that seem wholly genuine, as opposed to slotted in to assure the dramedy actually has some drama. The parts with Colette and James, as Duncan tries to make Pam see how truly awful her insufferably rude and careless boyfriend (a surprisingly villainous Steve Carell) is, are standouts, though, harkening back to the heated father-daughter scenes between George Clooney and Shailene Woodley in that aforementioned Rash/Faxon film. You root for the maintaining of their relationship more than you do for the blossoming of the one between James and Sophia Robb’s characters, which is more than you can say for most summer-set flicks about boys growing up.
There is definite attention paid to mother-son bonding in this flick, as there are also a number of scenes worth noting between Allison Janney’s loveable lush Betty and eyepatch-rocking son Neil (Adam Riegler). They banter like an old married couple, speaking mostly about Neil’s lazy eye, and provide a lighthearted contrast to Pam and Duncan, not to mention some the biggest laughs of hour and a half. Janney’s one-liners are delivered with such sauced sauciness that she almost rivals noted scenery chewer Rockwell (yes, he dances here again) as the film standout. But Rockwell wins out in the end, as he plays a part that sounds like a carbon copy of Bill Murray’s Tripper Harrison from Meatballs with surprising sincerity and his signature suave comedic timing.
First time directors Rash and Faxon really carve out their own signature style with this flick, clearly taking some cues from Alexander Payne’s treatment of their award-winning screenwriting debut (the colouring is actually quite similar, as are the beachside backdrops) and adding their own quirky twists (Water Wizz could honestly be a character of its own, with its rusted chairs and shotty swim accessory shack dubbed “Davey Jones Lockers and Rentals”). If they continue to make movies with so much care, heart and humour, their shelves should be way, way stocked with awards. And my summers should be more stacked — with well-written movie drama, that is — than one of Iron Man’s former bimbos.