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Article by Teddy Durgin

You'll Want to Go 'Way, Way Back' to the Theatre

Some movies are thrilling because they take big chances and break the rules of traditional cinema. "Memento," for instance, told its story in reverse and was enthralling. "My Dinner With Andre" is basically two men having a nearly two-hour conversation over a meal, and you never want them to ask for the check. "The Artist" is a mostly silent film that is more thrilling than 90 percent of the surround-sound blockbusters assaulting your eardrums. Then, there is a movie like "The Way, Way Back" (now open in D.C., set for release in Baltimore this Friday, July 12). It's thrilling to a movie lover like me not for the big rules it breaks ... but for the small rules it absolutely shatters. Here is a flick that takes Steve Carrell, whose made a career playing good guys, and Sam Rockwell, whose filmography includes many memorable jerks, and it makes Carrell the jerk and Rockwell the guy you want to be friends with. Here is a movie in which the lead character is a teenage boy. But he's not some oddball Wes Anderson or Todd Solondz concoction, nor is he the kind of clean-cut, straight-arrow sunshine boy that populates so many Disney Channel and Nickelodeon productions. Liam James' Duncan is a real kid with real problems. And here is a movie that you are told is going to take place over an entire summer. Duncan and his divorced mom, Pam (Toni Collette), have traveled to a sleepy little East Coast beach town with Pam's emotionally abusive boyfriend, Trent (Carrell), and his teenage daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). Duncan feels totally trapped until he is befriended by Owen (Rockwell), the manager of the local water-theme park who gives him a job and starts bringing him out of his shell. As a moviegoer conditioned on Hollywood Screenplay 101, you sort of a sit back and figure it will all come to a head on Labor Day weekend. But no! When the doo-doo hits the fan in this flick, there is a lot of summer left. It's darn-near tragic when it looks like Duncan is going to have to leave Owen and his newfound friends and happiness at Water Wizz. But what happens after that pays off so beautifully that you realize just how well co-directors and co-screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have set the whole thing up. Faxon and Rash really master tone, character and setting here. The inner world they create at Water Wizz in just a few scenes is so funny and well-drawn. It feels like a real place and not some personal magic truth land for Duncan. There are both dreams deferred and petty disagreements throughout the park. But it's just the right place at the right time for Duncan to be there. This movie snuck up on me by the end, but it probably shouldn't have. When I was a teenager back in the 1980s, there was a P.G. County amusement park called Wild World whose operators would come around to my high school each spring and recruit kids to work the rides and concessions for the summer. I never applied, but some of my friends did. And it was quite an experience for them. For many, it was their first job. But some had their first kiss working the park. Others fell in love for the first time. Regardless, they all came back changed - some a little, some a lot. "The Way, Way Back" nails that whole time in a young person's life when everything is so big and so immediate. This is a confident little movie that doesn't over-reach. I personally look forward to going way, way back to the cinema in the coming days and seeing this one again.

"The Way, Way Back" is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, some sexual content, and brief drug material.

 

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