July 16th, 2013

movies, oscars

The Way, Way Back

Over the weekend I won a pass to see a sneak preview screening of the new movie The Way, Way Back. Some of you city slickers may question my calling it a sneak preview, since it's been out for a week or two in major metropolitan areas, but Madison isn't one of those, so it won't open here until Friday.

I was pretty excited to win the pass, because I was particularly interested in seeing this movie. It probably won't surprise anyone when I say the reason I was excited to see it was that it was co-written and -directed (with Nat Faxon) by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Jim Rash, who also happens to play the Dean on Community. Such is my devotion to that show. (I do have my limits, though; I've yet to see Scream IV, which features Community's Alison Brie.)

I imagine you're all wondering whether I liked it. (I have a vivid imagination.) I did! It must be said that it had a lot in common with the movie Adventureland -- they're both comedy-drama coming-of-age films set at an amusement park -- but it was better than than that. That's in part because Duncan, the lead character of TWWB, is a more appealing character than James, the character Jesse Eisenberg played in Adventureland, but also because it was funnier and ... I don't know, less mopey. Not that Duncan doesn't spend a lot of time moping around, but you know, he's 14 and his parents are recently divorced. James is a college graduate whose parents cant afford to send him on a post-graduation trip to Europe. Aw.

TWWB splits its time between the beach house where he and his mom are staying with his mom's new boyfriend and his teenage daughter and the water park where Duncan finds a part-time job that lets him get away from the beach house. I didn't find the family drama stuff particularly compelling, and there wasn't enough humor in the sections to offset the drama. That may be on me, though; there's a comic relief character, played by Allison Janney, but I just found her annoying, not funny. I much preferred the scenes set at the water park, which were very funny but also emotionally satisfying, because those were the scenes where we got to see Duncan opening up and start enjoying life.

If there's a problem with the water park scenes, it's that many of the actors playing Duncan's co-workers in them are older than one would expect to be playing that kind of role. Sam Rockwell plays the easy-going park manager who befriends and mentors Duncan; he's almost 45 years old. I can sort of buy that for that particular character, but I don't think that's true for Maya Rudolph (41 later this month), Nat Faxon (38), and Jim Rash (42). Don't get me wrong, they all gave good performances, and I was particularly surprised and happy to see Rash on screen. And I know it's not at all unusual for actors to play younger than they are, but even given that the ages seemed off.

That said, the age thing didn't affect my enjoyment of the movie. The flatness of the family scenes did, though, especially since I had to suffer through a lot of them before getting to the more enjoyable stuff. Overall, though, it was pretty good, and I didn't regret the money I spent on popcorn.