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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Way Way Back

November 15th, 2013

The Way Way Back - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

The Way Way Back is written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. For most of their careers, they have been actors. However, they wrote the script for The Descendants, which won them an Oscar. This time around, they not only co-wrote the screenplay, but co-directed the film as well. Was The Descendants a fluke? Or do they have another critical darling on their hands?

The Movie

The film begins with Duncan traveling with his mom, Pam, her mom's new boyfriend, Trent, and Trent's daughter, Steph. The two ladies are asleep, so Trent talks to Duncan. At this point, it is hard to say if Trent is trying to be an ass, but he certainly is coming across like that. He might actually be trying to help Duncan come out of his shell, which would be a noble goal, but his methods basically boil down to emotional abuse.

When they arrive at Trent's summer place, they are greeted by Betty, their summer neighbor. She's a drunk, but she's a friendly drunk. Perhaps too friendly a drunk. She's staying there with her two kids, Susanna and Peter, and immediately latches on to Trent and Pam. When Steph heads off to the beach, Trent forces Duncan to go with her. Neither party is happy with this, and Duncan sneaks back to the summer house, only to later have an embarrassing encounter with Susanna. That evening, Trent and Pam have a dinner with another couple, Kip and Joan, and Trent goes out of his way to embarrass Duncan again. It's not a good start to the summer, although he does have a somewhat nice conversation with Susanna, and so far she's the only person that's kind of nice to him.

The next day, Duncan finds a bike and decides to explore the town. He meets Owen at a local eatery. Owen works at the Water Wizz after yet another embarrassment, Duncan decides to head over there during the days instead of spending time with his mom and Trent. Owen recognizes Duncan isn't having the summer of his life and takes him under his wing. He even hires Duncan to do odd jobs around Water Wizz. It doesn't help him deal with his family life, but at least he's got somewhere to go to not be around them. Also, he does start to strike up a friendship with Susanna, although he still doesn't open up much.

At this point we run into spoilers. In fact, I skipped over the rest of the staff at Water Wizz, because it's fun how Owen introduces them and how they interact with each other and some of the regular guests.

The Way Way Back is not a very original movie. It is a coming of age film set in a dysfunctional family. Those are two of the most common keywords in our database and they are often paired together. However, a film can follow a well-worn path, as long as the execution is strong, and it is very strong here. Liam James is excellent as Duncan and he is equally adept at portraying the closed off Duncan and the one that learns to open up more. He also has very good chemistry with AnnaSophia Robb. Steve Carell is very strong playing a character that is nearly wholly unsympathetic. Fortunately, Sam Rockwell is just as good at turning his character into a sympathetic, if immature, character. Much of the humor comes from his... I don't want to saying ranting, because that has an angry connotation. Rambling isn't quite right either. It's funny, whatever you want to call it. He has a much more difficult time pulling off this character, because much of the time he's talking to Duncan, who basically doesn't respond. It's like having a straight man who isn't there. The movie does meander a bit and perhaps doesn't quite have the emotional pull of some other similar stories, but it is still worth checking out.

The Extras

The Extras begin with a trio of short behind-the-scenes featurettes on the water park, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, etc. The DVD also has three deleted scenes. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is a multipart behind-the-scenes featurette. It clocks in at just over 30 minutes and goes over a lot of details from when the script was first written and picked up, to when it was delayed, finally made, and its premiere. There is also a quite a bit of humor in the featurette as well.

The film is a dialogue driven dramedy, so it should come as no surprise that it isn't a visually intensive movie. It was shot digitally, so it should also come as no surprise that it looks great. The level of details is high, the colors are vivid, the contrast is strong. There are no digital artifacts or compression issues. The audio is very clear, but it isn't a very complicated tract. It's just fine for what it needs to do for this movie, but you won't use it to show off your home theater setup.

At the moment on, the DVD is $15 while the Blu-ray is $25. That's a pretty steep premium to pay for high definition, even though you do get exclusive extras on the Blu-ray. The list price is only 33% more for the Blu-ray, which would be fine.

The Verdict

The Way Way Back has a very strong script, excellent characters, and actors who are all up to the task. There are not a lot of extras on the DVD, so I would call that format a rental. The Blu-ray costs a bit more than I would like, but the behind-the-scenes featurette is twice as long as the total running time of the extras on the DVD. It's not a great deal, but it is still a better deal.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Way Way Back, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Rob Corddry, Liam James, Allison Janney, Amanda Peet, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, River Alexander, Zoe Levin