Despite the incongruity of watching Steve Carell play an all around bad guy, “The Way Way Back” was worth the trip to the Little Theatre. Nat Faxton and Jim Rash (writers of the Oscar-winning film, “The Descendants”) brilliantly paint a picture of an awkward teenage boy struggling with his family’s problems as well as his own.
Duncan (Liam James) is able to find refuge from his mother’s antagonistic boyfriend (Carell) at a water park, run by the hilarious, kid-at-heart adult, Owen (Sam Rockwell). Duncan comes into his own in this beautiful beach-town, a world which he describes as “the only place I feel happy.”
That the movie is comedic goes without saying, but perhaps its most impressive aspect is the endearing relationship between a lonely, friendless boy and a man who just wants life to be a good time.
It’s a deeply felt and convincing relationship, a quality the movie shares thanks in large part to the film’s deft casting. Maya Rudolf, recognized for her roles on Saturday Night Live and “Bridesmaids,” plays Owen’s sassy romantic interest and fellow Whiz World employee. Child-star AnaSophia Robb portrays an edgy yet down-to-earth girl-next-door named Susanna. But perhaps the most impressive performance is given by Carell himself.
Whether an awkward but lovable Michael Scott, Tina Fey’s hilarious partner-in-crime, a 40-year-old Virgin, a madcap anchorman, or a despicable super-villain, Carell has built his career predominantly on silly, humorous, and lovable roles.
In “The Way Way Back,” however, Carell’s first line, though funny, has a cold, hard edge that induces a double-take. Did Steve Carell really just say that?
When asked about the casting choice in an interview with The Huffington Post, Jim Rash explained that Carell, as an actor, clearly understood what it would take to play a “tragic male character…stuck in this vicious cycle where he knows…he’s making a mistake.” It’s the kind of role that demands the dramatic chops we never knew Carell possessed, and he comes through powerfully in this film.
And he is just one part of a phenomenal ensemble dedicated to a movie that navigates the joys and trials of life and growing up. On their influences, writers Rash and Faxon admitted to being inspired by the works of John Hughes. One can certainly see the similarities. But ultimately, “The Way Way Back” is its own film, one that will connect with you in its own goofy, awkward, sad, and lovely way.
McAdams is a member of the class of 2017.