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The Way, Way Back Blu-ray + Digital HD UltraViolet Review

The Way, Way Back (2013) movie poster The Way, Way Back

Theatrical Release: July 5, 2013 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writers/Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Cast: Steve Carell (Trent), Toni Collette (Pam), Allison Janney (Betty), AnnaSophia Robb (Susanna), Sam Rockwell (Owen), Maya Rudolph (Caitlin), Liam James (Duncan), Rob Corddry (Kip), Amanda Peet (Joan), River Alexander (Peter), Zoe Levin (Steph), Nat Faxon (Roddy), Jim Rash (Lewis), Adam Riegler (Neil), Jeremy Weaver (Jason), Robert Banfield Capron (Kyle), Rodney Lodge (Malcolm), Devon Werden (Laura), Ava Deluca-Verley (Katy), Jake Picking (Chad), Jeffrey Ryan (Charlie)

Buy The Way, Way Back from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + UltraViolet DVD Instant Video

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have been acting since the 1990s, each working their way up from bit parts to more prominent presences in TV and film. The two got together to write a 2005 TV pilot for Fox that didn't get picked up.
They continued acting and their next project together and first feature screenplay, an adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings' The Descendants, won them and director/co-writer Alexander Payne the 2011 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Faxon and Rash have followed up that Hawaiian dramedy with an original screenplay which is also the basis of their directorial debut.

The Way, Way Back is a contemporary coming-of-age dramedy that has attracted plenty of big name talent. The title seemingly refers to the part of a station wagon where 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) sits as he, his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), and his teenage daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) make the trip out to Trent's summer beach house. Pam and Trent have been dating for about a year and they seem pretty happy. Happier than they should be, based on the film's opening conversation, in which Trent seriously rates Duncan a three on the "1 to 10 scale." The tension between Duncan and Mom's new boyfriend is apparent to us, though not so much Pam, who seems pleased to not be alone.

As Pam and Trent spend time with his friends (Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet) and Betty (Allison Janney), the hilariously obnoxious and chatty next-door neighbor who doesn't shy from self-invitation, loner Duncan finds an old girl's bike in the garage and uses it to ride around town. In his explorations, he discovers Water Wizz, a water park built in 1983 and not updated since then. He sneaks in through the employee entrance, which he soon legitimately uses as Owen (Sam Rockwell), the park's jokey, always-on manager offers him a job. Duncan doesn't tell anyone about it. He just sneaks off there every day while neither the adults nor Steph and her cliquey friends pay him any notice.

Duncan is taken under the wing of Owen and embraced by his fellow Water Wizz employees (Maya Rudolph, Faxon, and Rash), adults who seem a little old for such work. Duncan's job experiences -- manning the water slides and breaking up a cardboard-based poolside breakdance showcase -- aren't the most remarkable, but they offer a much needed escape from the unpleasant home front and the jerky Trent. Duncan also catches the eye of Betty's teenage daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), a girl who's not always game to follow orders in Steph's clique.

Owen (Sam Rockwell) shows Duncan (Liam James) the ropes at the water park they'll together work at in "The Way, Way Back."

It was tough to tell how much of The Descendants was Payne, whose human dramedies (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), typically adapted from novels with Jim Taylor, always garner notice and how much was the separate ampersand-bound pair of relative novices whose script Payne seemed to rework. The Way, Way Back proves that though Faxon and Rash's Oscar victory seemed effortless and premature, it was not an unwarranted honor. The two had another good story to tell and have several more currently in development. Not only that, but despite no prior directing experience, the team proves to be perfectly qualified to tell their story themselves.

Confirming their writing prowess and announcing their directing talents, this ebullient effort is an utterly feel-good experience in perfect contrast to its protagonist's opening state. It is a smart film and an unusually relatable one. Most comedies today are all about outrageousness. Independent ones typically cash in their commercial limitations for an edge that almost inevitably involve sex, drugs and profanity. This is the rare film that just happens to be rated PG-13 and isn't a compromise or a calculated attempt to round up the largest audience possible. Duncan's summer is simply a PG-13 one and there's no reason it has to be softened for kids or dirtied up for teenagers.

While some of the characters are familiar (the quiet protagonist, for instance), plenty others are not. Either way, the distinctive, fleshed-out roles give all the actors something interesting to work with through entertaining, believable situations, like a combative game of Candy Land. Janney reminds us that she can be comic dynamite. Carell remembers that he can do more than play the wounded, well-intentioned guy. This is his best movie since Little Miss Sunshine and preferable to both the broad deadpan and schmaltzy romcoms he's largely dabbled in.

Tensions flare between Trent (Steve Carell) and Pam (Toni Collette) in a Candy Land game played by this prospective blended family.

The best performance of all, though, belongs to Rockwell, an actor who seemed destined to become a multiple Academy Award winner a few years back but has somehow lost that vibe in more recent films that Hollywood either doesn't notice or doesn't take seriously. He's consistently funny but with a hint of tragedy, as the class clown who's never really grown up or ever intends to.
Owen's a fun guy to be around, though Rudolph's character can't decide if he's more than that. He is more than that to Duncan, recognizing the kid's awkward introversion and helping him to shed it, while also providing the comforting adult male voice of reason he needs. If film awards weren't so set in the types and timing of movies they recognize, Rockwell's turn would deserve attention in supporting actor categories. I intend to keep it in mind in the one set of awards in which I have a voice.

Independent films are a hard sell any time of the year, but Way Back's July opening pit it against the flashiest, most expensive, and most mindless fare that Hollywood has to offer. Fox Searchlight's bold counterprogramming plan seemed to work, though. Way Back grossed a respectable $21.5 million while only narrowly hitting 1,000 theaters a month into its run. That sum is barely less than what Carell's mainstream vehicle The Incredible Burt Wonderstone earned in over 3,000 theaters last spring.

The Way, Way Back is now available to own on DVD and in the Blu-ray + Digital HD UltraViolet edition reviewed here.

The Way, Way Back Blu-ray + Digital HD UltraViolet cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English), 5.1 DTS (French, Castilian, German, Italian), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, Czech, Hungarian, Thai, English DVS)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Castilian, Dutch, German, Italian, Arabic, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Malay, Chinese, Romanian, Thai, Vietnamese; Extras Subtitled in English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, Italian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Korean, Chinese, Thai; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 22, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Blu-ray treats The Way, Way Back to a terrific 1.85:1 presentation. The vibrant, sharp, and spotless picture shows off the pleasing photography, much of it bright and sunny. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack matches it in energy, complementing the crisp dialogue with prominent but not overpowering music. The Blu-ray piles on way, way more dubs and subtitles than the packaging indicates, as illustrated in the table above.

Writers-directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon discuss filming in a water park from the water park in which they filmed the movie. Caitlin (Maya Rudolph) serenades Roddy (Nat Faxon) with her Water Wizz theme song in this deleted scene.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with "Behind-the-Scenes with the Hilarious Cast & Filmmakers", six making-of featurettes or, if you prefer, one documentary (31:19).
The cast discusses responding to the script, which playful writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash reveal they wrote back in 2005 from their own experiences growing up. Faxon, Rash, and producers then recall assembling the cast. All weigh in on shooting in Massachusetts, where the production was moved to accommodate Carell's family vacation plans. The actors discuss their characters and from whom they borrowed. Reflection on Faxon and Rash's directing style follows. The section wraps up with thoughts on the Sundance Film Festival, where the film premiered, and sticking with The Descendants' Fox Searchlight.

Next up come three deleted scenes (3:02), giving us more of Allison Janney's inappropriate, alcohol-fueled chatter, Duncan and his lazy-eyed neighbor's post-party morning bike ride, and Maya Rudolph sharing her ideas for a Water Wizz theme song.

Three short, redundant promotional featurettes fall under the heading Theatrical Behind the Scenes. "Tour of the Water Park" (3:22) is less a tour than a survey of filming there, while Faxon and Rash's water slide gag from earlier is repeated. "The Filmmakers: Jim and Nat" (3:16) takes another look at the guys' directing style. "Ensemble Featurette" (4:34) further celebrates the cast of characters. These are curious bits, seemingly pulled almost entirely from the previous section's content.

The Way, Way Back's theatrical trailer (2:26) is fittingly preserved.

The Sneak Peek section holds the disc-opening trailers for The East, Baggage Claim, and The Heat as well as ones for The Family and The Internship.

The simple menu places a blue and yellow bar of listings over a scored montage of clips. The Blu-ray both supports bookmarking and gives you the chance to resume playback.

Your unique redemption code for the complimentary UltraViolet stream and download of the film joins the predominantly lemon-colored disc inside an eco-friendly keepcase, which is topped by a slipcover whose rear enlarges the write-up and expands the photos to make use of the extra space gained, in part, by dropping the credits block.

Next-door neighbor Betty (Allison Janney) is constantly talking with a drink in her hand. Duncan (Liam James) shares a nighttime chat with Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) while fireworks fill the sky above them.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Way, Way Back is an indie film with a mainstream cast and broad appeal. It's kind of like a modern-day Meatballs as written and filmed by recent Academy Award winners, with heart, personal experience, and fleshed-out characters replacing sophomorism. Both the average moviegoer and the art house crowd should see the fun in this summer dramedy.

Fox's Blu-ray sports excellent picture and sound, a decent 45 minutes of extras, and UltraViolet for those so inclined. Unlikely to be revisited anytime soon, this fine package suits the film just fine and both are easy to recommend.

Buy The Way, Way Back from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + UltraViolet / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash: The Descendants
2013 Indies: The Kings of Summer Stuck in Love Before Midnight Somebody Up There Likes Me
Steve Carell: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Dan in Real Life | Toni Collette: Fright Night The Night Listener
Allison Janney: Juno Our Very Own The Help | Maya Rudolph: Away We Go Grown Ups Friends with Kids
Liam James: The Killing: The Complete First Season | AnnaSophia Robb: Soul Surfer Bridge to Terabithia
Sam Rockwell: Seven Psychopaths Everybody's Fine Gentlemen Broncos The Sitter Galaxy Quest | Nat Faxon: Zookeeper Bad Teacher
Adventureland Middle of Nowhere Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days Ruby Sparks

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Reviewed October 29, 2013.



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