The directorial debut of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash is one of the best-reviewed coming-of-age films in years
Fox Searchlight's "The Way, Way Back" was written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the same two guys behind the screenplay adaptation for "The Descendants," which netted them Oscars in 2012.
This time, the duo added "Director" to their respective resumes — and more kudos could almost certainly follow. "The Way, Way Back" is the story of 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) as he spends a summer with his mom (Toni Collette), her new jerky boyfriend (Steve Carell) and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). Duncan finds a job, and a mentor in the form of loudmouth Owen (an excellent Sam Rockwell) at the local waterpark. He also finds a home there, as he finally has a place to fit in among the wacky employees. Through the unlikely friendships, the shy Duncan begins to blossom and shares a summer he will never forget.
Critics are responding very favorably, now it is time for the audience and voting panels to decide. Here are some of the early reviews:
TheWrap's Leah Rozen says "The Way, Way Back" is "delightful." She breaks down how the film works so well. It's simplistic, just like the story-telling. “Faxon and Rash concentrate on the specifics, Rozen noted. "They let us know exactly who each and every character is and what makes them special. They give viewers a spot-on sense of season and place. They're telling this story, not any other, and yet it's a story to which everyone can relate." Rozen closes by saying, “'The Way, Way Back' is way, way worth seeing." You can read Rozen's full review below.
A.O. Scott of the New York Times says “'The Way, Way Back” has the charm of timelessness but also more than a touch of triteness. Its situations and feelings seem drawn more from available, sentimental ideas about adolescence than from the perceptions of any particular adolescent." He says the film is "pleasantly watchable" in the way it underplays both comic moments and emotional explosions. But he says the approach "also makes it feel small and anecdotal, a modest variation on something you've seen before."
Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times calls "The Way, Way Back" an "exceptional, realistic coming-of-age film." It feels both fresh and real, Sharkey says, and is "witty, heartwarming, hopeful, sentimental" with a "searing and relatable edge." Sharkey praises everyone involved with the film, including the "top-notch crew." She also calls Sam Rockwell a "comic revelation."
Stephen Whitty of The Star-Ledger also lauds Rockwell's performance. Whitty enjoyed the comedy in the film, though would have liked to seen it toned down at times, saying, "The comedy dial does occasionally creep past 11." Fortunately, Whitty says, the film does have it's quieter moments too, and Faxon and Rash nail those. Whitty gives "The Way, Way Back" three-and-a-half stars out of four.
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune says the film is "not as good as its cast," but admits it "has its moments." Phillips says, "When Rash and Faxon allow their scenes to meander off the major plot points, this starts feeling and acting like a really good coming-of-age picture." But, "It's the big, awkwardly written confrontations that need work."
Andrew O'Hehir of Salon.com makes it his Pick of the Week, saying the indie comedy "gets adolescence and adulthood just right." He says the flick is " beautifully executed, loaded with sharp observational moments, and never cheats either its characters or its audience by descending into raunchy teen-movie cliché." He heaps praise on Rockwell too, saying he's never been better of funnier than he is in "The Way, Way Back.