The Way, Way Back

A word of advice to LA novices about the ArcLight theater: Those showtimes which are listed on Fandango, IMDb, and other seemingly trustworthy and accurate websites are not actually trustworthy or accurate. Check the actual ArcLight website if you want to know the showtime and avoid waiting around an extra 30 minutes (like I did) for your movie to start. Why the rest of the internet doesn’t list identical showtimes is beyond me.

If I seem a little bitter, it’s because I am. I was expecting my inaugural ArcLight experience to be one arc’d with light, and it kind of wasn’t. But, whatever. The theater itself — actually, the dome! — was cool and spacious and choose-your-own-adventureseat. I suppose the whole thing would have been enhanced by a movie that was really made for the big screen, instead of a quiet indie, but that is neither here nor there now. I came, I saw, I cried a little because of Sam Rockwell.

Rockwell is the rock of this movie, without a doubt. And that’s saying a lot, considering the solid cast. It just seems that Rockwell was given way more to work with than the other actors, and he really took this opportunity and ran with it. He plays Owen, the manager of the Water Wizz Park on which Duncan (Liam James) stumbles and comes out of his sad puberty shell. Owen is, at the very least, a father figure to Duncan, but he’s also an example for Duncan of what not to do with your life–grow bigger but not up, stay in the same small town, make no progress with the girl of your dreams, leave no legacy behind–and the degree to which Owen is aware of that is absolutely heartbreaking. On paper, Owen probably seemed like more of a giant bro-y douche, but after seeing Rockwell inhabit him with a hint of meekness and pathos, I can’t imagine anyone else playing him.

The rest of the characters, however, were a little more interchangeable. That’s not the fault of the actors or anything — each of them did a terrific job with what they were given. It’s just that the focus was so much on Owen and Duncan that there wasn’t really any room for the rest of them, save for several contrived conversations about changes/growing up/the different stages of life. The main stories a coming-of-age for both characters, and we got to see all mirrored aspects of them, but the rest of the players were sort of left in the dust. Steve Carell at least broke through his nice-guy barrier and played Trent, Duncan’s mother’s asswipe boyfriend, and for the most part pulled it off (until he started laughing, anyway, and then it was impossible not to see lovable Steve sporting those horrid surf shop tee-shirts). That aforementioned mother, Pam (!) was played by Toni Collette, lovely but very underused. Same goes for Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Allison Janney, even AnnaSophia Robb. Each of these actors have immense talents, but they were reduced to second-tier stereotypes, in the background to provide comedic or dramatic relief. And Liam James himself struggled to let Duncan’s likability shine through the teenage gloom. It was hard to tell when he was acting poorly and when he was just a broody teenager. I wanted him to escape the complacency of living with Trent and Pam, and I applauded him for calling out Trent’s behaviour (which included cheating on Pam, among other things), but I was never so much in his court as when Owen was. Owen was the key to the Water Wizz, and to the water works in the audience. No joke.

So I guess I am a sucker for coming-of-age stories after all. Truth be told, though, I expected this one to hit me more. I definitely found ways to identify with Duncan’s story, but it wasn’t until Owen came into the picture that I even began to care. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the lovely writers, sometimes smacked us all in the face with the symbolism and poignancy of the whole thing, and it took the entire first half of the movie for the heavy-handedness to lighten. Faxon and Rash even cast themselves in the movie, as largely useless Water Wizz employee characters, and they could have been so much more, too.

What am I trying to say? Who knows. I liked this movie, but I really wanted to love it and just couldn’t get to that point. I do hope Rockwell gets more accolades for his performance, though. And I hope Steve Carell gets cast as a comic book villain, because the world needs that.

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