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The Way Way Back (2013)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/22/2013

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/29/2013

This is just an assumption, but I'd be willing to guess that most areas of the country have certain vacation destination to which a majority of the population travel. For my family, it was the Myrtle Beach area. When I was growing up, I loved our annual trip to the beach and the best part was the water slide. At one time, they were hugely popular and dotted the tourist areas, and I visited every one. I'm not talking about a water park, but a free-standing water-slide only attraction which would have three or four runs. I could have spent the entire vacation there. My fondness for these memories is just one of the reasons that made me interested in seeing The Way Way Back, which, I knew, had something to do with water slides. However, just like those great slides, my excitement over the movie is now gone.

As The Way Way Back opens, 14-year old Duncan (Liam James) is going on vacation with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), and her boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell). They will be spending the summer at Trent's beach-house. Duncan doesn't like Trent and can't understand what his mother sees in the man. Upon arrival at the house, they meet sassy neighbor Betty (Allison Janney), and everyone begins to have fun -- except for Duncan, who has no idea what to do with himself and doesn't fit in with the other kids in the area. (Although, he does have his eye on Betty's daughter, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb)). The shy and awkward Duncan finds a bicycle in the garage and rides into town, where he discovers the Water Wizz water park. There, he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), a slacker who sort of runs the place The park is littered with misfits and Duncan feels at home there, and discovers an escape from life at the beach house, where things are growing more and more tense.

(OK, before we go any further, let's get something straight. Again, I was interested in seeing The Way Way Back and heard many comments about it, most of which implied that the movie is set in the past. Well, it's not. The film is set in the present. I'm not the only one who thought this. And, in case you didn't know, the title refers to the far back seat where Duncan rides in Trent's station wagon.)

The Way Way Back comes from Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who won an Oscar for their screenplay for The Descendants. That film was certainly deserving of its praise, as it presented a view of Hawaii which many of us had never seen and a unique story which combined a bitter-sweet plot with a touching look at family. Following the success of that film, Faxon and Rash got the go-ahead to direct their next project, The Way Way Back. Unfortunately, everything which made The Descendants original and interesting is nowhere to be found in The Way Way Back. This may be one of the most tone-deaf movies which I've seen in years, and it never achieves any sense of balance.

Let's begin with Duncan. This is a character who is going to that awful adolescent awkward phase where one isn't comfortable in their own skin. To make matters worse, he's in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by people who he doesn't know. This all sounds pretty straight-forward, and it should me Duncan relatable. However, as written by Rash and Faxon and as portrayed by James, Duncan is too much of a sad sack. He barely speaks in the film and while we get why he's down, we also can't help but wonder why he isn't making more of a bad situation. This is Duncan's story and he's in nearly every scene, but it reached the point where I couldn't stand him.

Then we have the fact that the movie can't decide what it wants to be. The scenes at the beach house begin in an interesting way, but they soon dissolve into very, very trite melodrama. Given that the movie was marketed as somewhat of an alternative movie, I was truly surprised by how predictable those moments were and I felt as if I'd seen it all before. The movie's goal is to contrast those emotional moments with the much more light-hearted scenes at the water park. These parts are far superior to those at the beach house, but they aren't anything special either. They offer a few laughs, but they can't escape the saccharine feel which permeates the film.

As you probably know, critics fell over themselves praising The Way Way Back and I can't begin to imagine what movie they watched. Granted, the scenes with Sam Rockwell do bring the movie to life, but I felt as if they still weren't living up to their potential. In the end, the funniest part of the film is Writer/Director Jim Rash, who has a small role as a very neurotic water park employee. The film received kudos for having a throwback feel and Rockwell has openly admitted that he was channeling Bill Murray's character from Meatballs in the movie. But, the film simply lacks the heart of those older classic. The bottom line is that, despite how Duncan sees his situation, it's very difficult to feel sorry for a kid who gets to spend a summer at the beach with adults who apparently don't need to work while spending time with the cute girl next door while getting a great job at a water park where he meets his personal hero. The Way Way Back could use some more laughs, some new ideas, and a lot of perspective.

The Way Way Back does do a good job of bringing back some classic REO Speedwagon on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 31 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The daytime shots at the water park have a great crispness. The level of detail is very good, as we can see textures on objects, and the depth looks great. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, most notably during the scenes on the beach or at the water park. The park scenes also provide some good surround sound effects and we can pick out occasional individual sounds. The in-film music delivers good subwoofer in spots.

The Way Way Back Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "Behind-the-Scenes with the Hilarious Cast & Filmmakers" (31 minutes) is made up of six segments; "The Script", "The Cast", "The Shoot", "The Characters", "Nat & Jim", and "Sundance". This includes comments from the Faxon and Rash, as well as members of the cast, who discuss what drew them to the film and how they viewed their characters. We also get on-set footage, where we see the movie being shot and learn more about the locations. The Disc contains three DELETED SCENES which run about 3 minutes. These are all brief and save for the first one, are simply throwaway moments. "Theatrical Behind the Scenes" offers "Tour of the Water Park" (3 minutes), in which we see the Water Whizz location; "The Filmmakers: Jim and Nat" (3 minutes), which offers comments from the duo, as well as clips from the movie; and "Ensemble Featurette" (5 minutes), which examines the cast. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long