The Way, Way Back

July 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney
Directed by: Jim Rash (debut) and Nat Faxon (debut)
Written by: Jim Rash (“The Descendants”) and Nat Faxon (“The Descendants”)

In 2011, writing partners Jim Rash and Nat Faxon burst onto the scene by taking home an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film ‘The Descendants.” Known mostly for their bit parts in TV and film, the two collaborated with veteran director Alexander Payne (“Sideways”) and became a hot Hollywood commodity following their success. Going behind the camera for the first time, Rash and Faxon unleash their directorial debut, the coming-of-age summer tale, “The Way, Way Back.”

In the film, 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) goes on a summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her annoying boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) who criticizes Duncan whenever he can. When they get to their beach house, Duncan feels out of place, finding only a little bit comfort when talking to his neighbor, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb). While exploring the beachtown, Duncan stumbles across Water Wizz, a waterpark  run by a fun-loving and mildly lazy man named Owen (Sam Rockwell). As Duncan begins secretly working there, he finally finds a true connection with Owen and a hide out where he doesn’t feel like a complete loser.

Led by James, who is in nearly every scene the film, the young actor seems far less experienced than his past screen experience would indicate. His delivery throughout the film is incredibly unnatural and although his character is clearly meant to be an awkward teenager, James’ performance seems more on the side of a poor performance. While some of the secondary cast like Rash and Faxon are decent, the ever-reliable Rockwell keeps the film at a watchable level. Even though Rockwell’s character isn’t the strongest written, his on-screen charisma, which has become so consistent in his career, works like the film’s life vest and keep it’s head above water. His overgrown laziness and wit really work in some of his scenes with James. As one of the most under-appreciated actors working today, Rockwell simply needs somebody to give him the opportunity to shine in a bigger role.

As a whole, there is a certain unpolished sense that lingers through “The Way, Way Back.” Much of the dialogue is cliché and jokes frequently miss their mark. The film is also filled with half-hearted relationships that are never fleshed out or explored beyond surface level. Duncan’s relationship with Susanna and particularly Trent ring completely untrue. In fact, the only believable relationship is between Duncan and Owen, who really find their chemistry when they share the screen.

The film wraps up with a scene involving a waterpark legend that ends up being anti-climatic and lame rather than the larger than life moment it shoots for. When all is said and done, one really wonders how much work Payne did on his own for “The Descendants.” “The Way, Way Back” is in dire need to have someone else go through it with a finely-toothed comb. Rash and Faxon’s hearts may be in the right place, but even with Oscar statues in hand, their work as storytellers on their own is average at best.

The Descendants

November 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges
Directed by: Alexander Payne (“Sideways”)
Written by: Alexander Payne (“Sideways”), Nat Faxon (debut), Jim Rash (debut)

With the beautiful scenery of Hawaii as backdrop, Matt King (George Clooney) describes how people assume just because he lives in the island paradise, he is on vacation all the time. Truth is, he hasn’t golfed in years and his problems are no different than anyone living on the mainland.  Although his problems are plentiful, none is greater than struggling to care for his comatose wife.  This crisis becomes the center of “The Descendants,” a story about a father struggling to hold onto everything, including his family.

After his wife is left gravely injured in a boating accident, Matt is thrust into taking care of his two daughters; the younger Scottie (Amara Miller) who is lost without her mother, and the older Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who is off to college and acting out against everyone.  As Matt pries further into why Alexandra is so mad at her mother, he discovers that his wife might have been cheating on him. While trying to find out information on the man who slept with his wife, Matt must also deal with pressure from his extended family as he negotiates a deal to sell a huge mass of land that was bequeathed to his family from their Hawaiian ancestors.

Clooney is brilliant in his role, but what else is new? It’s truly astonishing how effortless Clooney emotes and delivers his lines with such great personality and wit. He will without question carry on his tradition of bi-annual acting Oscar nominations with his performance. For the supporting roles, director Alexander  Payne decided to fill out the rest of his cast with a melting pot of veteran and novice actors. While every cast member does a really great job, none are better than Woodley. Best known for her role on the ABC Family show “The Secret Life of The American Teenager,” Woodley plays the role of a foul-mouthed rebellious teenager to perfection. Although frustrated with her father for numerous reasons, her character Alexandra slowly grasps the situation at hand and attempts to mature, something that Woodley approaches at the level of a far more experienced actor.

After a seven-year absence, Payne returns with one of his more accessible films to date. The script he co-wrote is darkly funny with some very devastating one-liners that are delivered with perfection by Clooney. A good portion of the comedy also comes from Alexandra’s dopey free-spirit friend Sid, played by newcomer and Austin,Texas native Nick Krause. Although Payne does a good job at balancing comedy and drama, the film skews far more dramatically than one might think. This happens to be a great thing, as the more dramatic scenes are among the best in the film.

While the final act of the film is just a touch predictable, it carries extreme power. Anchored by a stellar performance from one of the most consistent actors in Hollywood, “The Descendants” is a fantastic and sometimes heartbreaking portrayal of a father struggling with responsibilities he’s not prepared for and trying to confront and make peace with the past.