The Way Way Back Blu-ray Review
There’s a good reason that the “coming-of-age” theme is rehashed in films time and time again. It’s because no matter the era, fads, politics or pop-culture, there’s always a new crop of teens struggling with those ungraceful years between being a child and a young adult. And even though no two generations experience that psychologically frail phase in an identical manner, there’s always just enough of an unruly root shared from one family tree to the next in order to forever bond all such tales of adolescence with a literal tenure of timelessness.
Duncan (Liam James, 2012) is on a summer vacation trip to Cape Cod with his mother (Toni Collette, HITCHCOCK), his mother’s boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell, THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE) and Trent’s daughter Steph (Zoe Levin, TRUST). Duncan, who is already a shy 14-year-old with self-esteem issues and growing up in a broken home, must also put up with Trent’s overly critical assessment and Steph’s outright hatred of him. After arriving at Trent’s beach house, Duncan meets several people that elicit his intrigue, but he’s very unsure how they feel about him. One of these people is Owen (Sam Rockwell, SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS), the owner of the local water park who never takes anything seriously and is almost as funny as he thinks he is. Owen sees something of himself in Duncan and tries to help him out by giving him a job at the park so he has a place to get away from his situation at home.
THE WAY WAY BACK is directors/writers Nat Faxon’s and Jim Rash’s follow up to their 2011 critically acclaimed and Academy Award winning screenplay for THE DESCENDANTS. However, this film was actually written back in 2005 and shelved until the duo earned enough Hollywood clout to get a studio to let them make the film as it was originally envisioned. THE WAY WAY BACK is a much lighter film than the Oscar winner that placed Faxon and Rash in Tinseltown’s “big-boy” column, but the tone in many scenes is unmistakably the same type of “tough room” where comedic undertones are constantly struggling to break through a situation’s serious exterior. Faxon and Rash have an uncanny way of writing dialogue that is not only extremely creative and engaging but it simultaneously satisfies a real-world resonance that keeps the story grounded.
The circumstances that postponed THE WAY WAY BACK from being produced for 8 years acted like a fine wine in terms of the caliber of cast that it was able to attract, including its main character who was only 9 years old in 2005. Liam James was worth the wait alone in order for him to come of age and play the “coming-of-age” Duncan. James is one of those rare young actors that exhibits no trace any formal training or precociousness; he’s able to demonstrate the angst of an awkward 14-year-old by forcing a feeling of uneasiness upon the audience through body language alone. No matter what decade you declare as your “wonder years,” you or someone you knew was exactly like Duncan at some point in life, and James embodies the character more like he’s remembering the feeling than simply mimicking it.
Oppositely, since he does not hail from a comedy background, Sam Rockwell admits to thorough research in preparation for his role as Owen. Dispensing his best impersonation of Bill Murray’s character from MEATBALLS, Rockwell pretty much steals every scene he’s in, serving as the comedic “heavy” throughout the film. Although, Rockwell is able to leave a sizeable branding on the character of “town jester” by infusing it with his natural intensity that at first impression makes you question whether Owen is an all-around nice guy or perhaps a serial killer just passing through.
Other notable members of the exceptional ensemble cast are Toni Collette, who is capable of conjuring up a smile that seems like it’s acting as a dam for an inevitable nervous breakdown, as Duncan’s mother Pam; while Betty, the always lubricated, socially inappropriate and wayward mother who lives next-door is illustrated with disturbing accuracy by Allison Janney (JUNO). But probably the most surprisingly perfect casting decision by Faxon and Rash was Steve Carell as Trent. Perfect because Carell is so innately likable, it delays the audience from immediately branding the character as nothing more than a jerk. Carell has played so many lovable underdogs or misunderstood characters throughout his career that he warrants the benefit of the doubt as to whether Trent is actually the pompous, conniving control freak he seems to be, or if he’s honestly trying to become a better person and showing Duncan some “tough love” for his own good.
THE WAY WAY BACK is appropriately titled not just for the reference of Duncan’s seat in the trunk of Trent’s 1970’s station wagon, but for all the feelings and experiences that come rushing to the forefront from that prominent and delicate time in so many people’s lives when all it took to free you from the shackles of who you were all the years before, was one great summer.
THE WAY WAY BACK BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1080p/AVC MPEG-4, 1.85:1 Widescreen: The color palette and location of this film makes you question exactly what decade the story takes place in, until you see the main character Duncan put in his iPod earbuds. The hue is reminiscent of a Polaroid photograph, except it retains the sharpness associated with today’s high definition productions. A layer of film grain can be noticed which works in some scenes and out of place in others. Black levels are appropriately not inky as it would clash with the throwback look of the film. Overall, it’s a beautifully shot production that maximizes the uniquely preserved New England landscapes.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: The soundtrack in this film is like a great referee; it does the job and goes unnoticed. Dialogue is crisp and the music level remains constant so you’re not raising and lowering the volume on your remote throughout the viewing.
Behind the Scenes with the Hilarious Cast and Filmmakers (31 min) – This is a set of featurettes focusing on different topics like story, cast and crew, which are informative, but for the most part its value comes from the comedy improv of the directors/writers and former Groundlings members Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, and how this script has been floating around Hollywood since 2005. Regrettably, no director’s commentary is included which would’ve been a major value to the disc featuring these long-term comedy partners.
Tour of the Water Park (3 min) – A look at the real-world water park used in the film and how the owners actually kept some of the props to use in its day-to-day business. Again, this is made entertaining due to the abilities of Faxon and Rash.
The Filmmakers Jim and Nat (3 min) – Just in case you haven’t had enough of the writers/directors, this is another short segment featuring the duo and the cast gushing about how talented they are. Still worth the watch as it’s very apparent how certain directors can create such vastly different working environments due to their background and personalities.
Ensemble Featurette (4 min) – Pretty much a rehashing and polished editing montage of all the other featurettes focusing on how each of the film’s characters added value to the story. If you’ve already watched all the other material, this one can be skipped.
Deleted Scenes (3 min) – 3 scenes, all of which were justifiably cut from the film.