PG-13, but it does have some R-rated moments to it. It seems like it really floats around vulgarity at times. The language isn't anything to completely ignore. The movie centers around themes of adultery and alcoholism. Also, there's a scene that really glorifies the objectification of women, so it's not like there's a completely honorable disposition of the film. But it does kind of read like a really decent PG-13 movie. Just go in knowing that there's some questionable stuff. PG-13.
DIRECTORS: Jim Rash and Nat Faxon
It's such a good movie and the disc came scratched. My wife's attitude is to just miss a section and rewind to where it is working again. There was a part of me that was grateful that we would have missed 20 minutes because we ended up getting another copy of the disc. Regardless, it does kind of throw a monkey-wrench in the ideal way to view a movie. I didn't really care though. Since having a billion kids, I've learned to watch movies any way I can. And with the case of The Way, Way Back, it was definitely worth my time.
My wife and I have quietly and secretly become Jim Rash fans. Most of it comes from our rewatch of Community on Netflix. I know that he's an Academy Award winning writer for The Descendants, but in my mind he's still Dean Pelton. The Way, Way Back was way, way back in my queue, so it was a pleasant surprise to see when it came in the Netflix DVD sleeve. I think I've been pushing heavy movies for too long with my wife, so to watch a fun indie dramedy was exactly the mood we were going for. (Note: If you aren't in the mood for a fun indie dramedy, this probably isn't for you.) The Way, Way Back balances something that is very difficult to pull off properly. It is light and charming at times and sinisterly dark at others. A lot of props go to casting Sam Rockwell and Steve Carrell as opposite sides of the same coin. I will say that I never imagined that Steve Carrell could play this character in my mind. While he's played bad dudes, like his role in Foxcatcher, I never imagined him as the mean boyfriend character. While I'm not the biggest fan of Dan in Real Life, I've always pictured Carrell as that kind of male role model. He's the lovable dope who really tries doing the best thing. So when he's playing this role of Trent (which might be the perfect name for a jerk who is dating your mom), it's scary. He's really good in that role. The movie's opening, when he's asking Duncan to rate himself, is so telling of what that character will be is perfect. Carrell sells that character from moment one.
Actually, before I go into Rockwell, I want to talk about why Trent works so well in this film. Trent is the bad guy. We're all meant to hate Trent from moment one because Duncan is our avatar. It doesn't matter that I'm 37, which seems to be ideal Trent age. We all sympathize with this kid because we don't want anyone dating our mom. ("Our mom" being "the universe's mom.") We are predisposed not to like him, which is normal. But Trent is a bad guy who doesn't see himself as the bad guy. He's a realistic jerk. He's the kind of jerk we all kind of know. He sees himself as a guy in a flawed situation. He thinks he's helping out the family with is tough love. This makes his attempts to bond all the more toxic because he's imbued himself with the role of the father before he really has any right to. Let's be clear: Trent is not a good person. But Trent is in a lose-lose situation. He knows that Duncan needs a father figure and, sometimes, being a father means being the bad guy. It's just that he actually is the bad guy. In the first half of the film, Joan attempts to seduce Trent. He does some B- fending her off. He doesn't quite reciprocate, but he doesn't get out of there as fast as he needs to either. But we see theses moments where he sees himself as the hero. He has this gorgeous woman throwing herself at him while his actual girlfriend kind of is a stick in the mud. It's this dynamic where two worlds are colliding and people can't force themselves to just make the entire situation work. Trent really sees himself as the victim of this whole thing. The joy of everyone in his house feels like it falls on his shoulders, and that's something that Carrell is playing fabulously. He is the bad guy, but he's a bad guy who keeps justifying his bad behavior because he feels put upon.
Then there's Rockwell. Rockwell is great in so many things. Carrell's role is to be stone-faced serious. Trent is never hilarious, nor should be be. Owen, on the other hand, is completely hilarious. He's the relief and the father that Duncan and the audience bond with. It's so odd because, as an old fart, I know that Owen isn't a reality. Owen is the cool guy to the Nth degree. We all know that his life is a mess, but that never really affects him. He's Ferris Bueller all grown up and he's proud of that idea. It is a double-edged sword though. Owen is fun and he brightens up every scene that he's in, but also, I would never want an Owen in my life. Because the film is trying to swing the emotional pendulum both ways, we do have some painfully unrealistic and uncomfortable moments. It does really kind of feel like Owen is grooming Duncan. The Way, Way Back celebrates a more innocent time, when teens and adults can be friends. But it is really weird to watch Owen clamp onto Duncan. Duncan is quiet and reserved. Owen runs a water park. He sees all kinds of teens every day. What makes Duncan stand out? Have there been a million Duncans for Owen? I mean, what makes Duncan so special to this park? I get that he really works out once the film gets going, but those initial meetings come across as kind of gross. But all this being said, I was the teenager who hung out with Owens growing up, so my cynical blog can't really hold up to my flimsy anecdotal evidence. I think I probably was just watching as a nagging parent and I couldn't separate the concept. Moving on.
The message of the selfish adult really hit home. There's so much in my life that is completely devoted to my family. I'm probably tired all of the time. I'm at a stage in my life that, if I decide to close my eyes and fall asleep, there are few places where that wouldn't have a follow-through. Heck, accidentally closing my eyes for more than ten seconds would probably lead me to completely take a trip to dreamland. My eyelids are getting heavy right now and I'm actively using my brain and sitting up in a well-lit room. So to watch a movie about parents who hold double standards for their kids is horrifying. Trent's warning to Duncan at the beginning, demanding that he leads a life outside the home, gets so much of a mixed message that it is dizzying. It's odd that everyone gives Duncan such a hard time considering that he's fulfilling the brief which has been given to him. But he's so afraid of his home life that he actually keeps a summer job secret. It's something that is his. Because he constantly is criticized, he can't actually risk sharing something so personal with the people who are meant to be closest to him. The Way, Way Back might be a criticism on our culture's view of aging. There's been a push back against adulthood with the assumption that adults know everything. But The Way, Way Back just have these immature adults that act like people do today. It's horrifying in a way.
Do you know which couple I've rooted for harder than any fictional couple before? Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph. I had no idea. It was there and I loved the way that they played off of each other. There's something really cute about them together. I love how he worked to make the relationship into something, but lacked that certain extra step. While the movie is about Duncan and I never want to take the spotlight off of Duncan, Owen has his own journey. As much as Owen is a good influence on Duncan, Duncan is an equally good influence on Owen. There's this moment where Owen realizes his real age. He sees that Duncan is borderline abused at home and lives a life that he constantly wants to flee from. Owen's epiphany that he is the father figure that Duncan never had is satisfying. It's not saying that Owen has grown up in this moment. But he does realize that his goofballery has more value than bringing himself pleasure.
I really dug this movie. I knew that I would probably like it, but it hit the spot I wanted it to. It's fun. It's funny without trying to be funny. It's serious without feeling too serious. It has this great vibe to the whole thing. It makes me want to rewatch The Descendants, which thankfully is in my Fox Searchlight box.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.