The Way Way Back

Rating: This is a movie that shines in the same spirit as its ancestor, Little Miss Sunshine. If you loved that one, then you can’t miss this film that again dances with cinematic perfection.

The Way Way BackEvery now and then a movie is so emotionally evocative that it literally pierces the human heart. As I contemplated the recent tragic death of our dear friend Joe Russell, I needed a movie that embraced the human spirit. The Way Way Back is that film.

First of all, be prepared to cry, because I surely did. No, there are no deaths or tragic illnesses, but only an examination of life through the eyes of Duncan, a 14-year old boy. Played here by Liam James, you see him wrestle with life as his divorced mother embraces a tarnished soul that he justifiably can’t stand.

Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the film is utterly magical on multiple levels. As you probably know from the previews, young Duncan is accompanying his mother, her paramour and his daughter to his summer lake home. As always, Toni Collette shines as she desperately tries to rationalize finding love in all the wrong places. Steve Carell, playing against image, is a first class bastard who treats young Duncan as little more than a degraded manservant.

However, the movie explodes with both venom and hilarity once our twisted family gets to the lake. Allison Janney plays the flamboyantly boozy next-door-neighbor, a divorced mother of two who consistently embarrasses her young son because of his amblyopic right eye. Since I suffer from the same malady, I would have slapped her if she hadn’t been completely blasted before noon!

AnnaSophia Robb plays Ms. Janney’s daughter, a young girl who hates the lake as much as Duncan does. They form a friendship, and are forced to watch their parents consistently act as if they are on some type of an adult spring break.

But what makes The Way Way Back rock beyond adequate description is the appearance of Sam Rockwell as an employee of a nearby water park. He is as offbeat as he is without pretense, and his hysterical assault on the world entertains everyone but his good-natured girlfriend, here played by the polite and loveable Maya Rudolph.

As Duncan tries to escape from his depressing vacation home, he begins to secretly work at the water park under Mr. Rockwell’s direction. In the process, he finds both meaning and inspiration, and there are episodes that will charm even you hard cynics.

Amanda Peet also plays against type, here as a slutty girlfriend of Rob Cordrey with a secret past with Mr. Carell. She is as beautiful as she is sleazy, and Duncan implodes once he discovers the trap his mother is falling into.

I have always loved Toni Collette, and I’m waiting for her to star in a film entitled Die, Kardashian Women, Die. She is profoundly accomplished at playing the average girl-next-door and hunt down some of her prior works such as her TV series United States of Tara (2009-2011), Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and In Her Shoes (2005).

Here she is simply a good mother who is trying to recover from a bad marriage. What she sees in Carell is hard to understand, but the same thing  can probably be said of  many relationships that swirl around all of us.

Let me simply say that Mr. Rockwell’s performance is classic, and it deserves to be remembered at Oscar time. He may appear to be socially demented, but he has a heart of gold that helps Duncan to find some missing self-respect.

By the end of the film, I was overwhelmed with a sense of passionate joy. Because of Mr. Rockwell’s Owen, young Duncan and his mother were able to rediscover each other. Joe Russell would have loved this movie.