Not to Pee in the Pool But…

The Way Way Back is just okay, guys

Quirky, charming dramedies about awkward, white, privileged suburban teenage boys coming of age are legion. It’s almost as though awkward, white, privileged suburban teenage boys went on to run Hollywood, elevating their innocuous and largely insignificant narratives as somehow more important. We get it: people used to make fun of you for being weirdly shaped and now you can buy a private island and make those former bullies kill each other, Hunger Games style. It doesn’t mean you have to rewrite personal history so you can finally make out with the gorgeous young girl who freaked at the thought of your wiener.

The Way Way Back is to indie comedy what a Jason Statham movie is to the action genre: reliable, predictable and filled with awkward sexual tension. The same people who treated the generally banal Little Miss Sunshine with undue reverence are likely to see what writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have done here as somehow special. Just because middle class people like to remember puberty doesn’t mean the movie actually has anything to say.

Faxon and Rash co-wrote The Descendents with Alexander Payne, winning an Academy Award for it, so there was reason for optimism. Reason that was crushed beneath a title wave of cliches and placeholders where characters should be. Watch: Nerdy Teen (Liam Jones) goes on summer vacation with Single Mom (Toni Collette) and Jerk Boyfriend (Steve Carell). He meets Hot Girl Next Door (AnnaSophia Robb), whose Wacky Mom (Allison Janney) says dirty things a lot. Luckily, he meets Cool Role Model (Sam Rockwell) at a local waterpark. Cool Role Model sees Nerdy Teen for the person he really is, so he puts him on the staff, giving Nerdy Teen a place to go when Jerk Boyfriend does bad things to Single Mom.

There are lots of other minor characters that you would expect would be in there, like Mean Potential Step Sister (Zoe Levin) and Wacky Fellow Employees (Faxon and Rash). Every character can be reduced to a simple, short descriptive noun, just as every emotion is telegraphed with invisible subtitles like “you should feel sympathy here.” It’s more obvious than offensive, although there is a “black kids breakdancing who respect Nerdy Teen for trying to learn their funky moves” scene that is as cringe-inducing as scenes where Faxon and Rockwell stare at teenage girls’ butts. It’s not adorable or funny if it makes you feel ooky.

Honestly, The Way Way Back is way way unnecessary more than it is anything else. You could overflow every landfill in New Jersey, a state known for its connection to trash, with the number of literary and cinematic tributes to this particular brand of “coming of age.” Give me 10 movies like Pariah, where a young black lesbian has to confront her sexuality and parents’ disapproval, before you give me one more pale scoliosis patient pining for a girl who can do way better.

Grade = C-

posted at 12:04 pm
on Friday, July 26th, 2013


(We're testing Facebook commenting (you can login using other services, too); please let us know if you have trouble.)


« Previous Page

Marvel Blockbusts a Cap

With fight choreography pickpocketed from Baryshnikov and more leaping and bounding than Pooh’s friend Tigger on cocaine, Captain America (Chris Evans) makes beating the crap out of bad guys look...

more »

That Ship Cray

They gave the guy who made Requiem for a Dream $150 million to make a movie about Noah’s ark. Huh?! In Requiem, writer/director Darren Aronofsky had Jennifer Connelly connect with another woman via...

more »

Quirking on Something Different

To alter a phrase from Twain, who won’t mind because he’s dead, writer/director Wes Anderson repeated history until he figured out how to rhyme. Barring a brief foray into stop-motion animation,...

more »

Speedy and Irritable

The most important thing to know before attempting to endure the lumbering bore that is Need for Speed is this: every single character in the film is unspeakably dumb. Presumably set in a world...

more »

Xerox Xerxes

When director Zack Snyder’s opus of underwear modeling amidst geysers of animated blood, 300, first arrived eight years ago, no one expected a sequel. And not just because 299 of the 300 Spartans...

more »

Advanced Search