I watched The Way Way Back tonight and it took my breath away. It reminded me that little more is needed for a great movie than good writing and genuine characters brought to life by courageously nuanced acting.
The Way Way Back is a movie about a boy positioned at the pivotal moment between boyhood and adulthood and his complicated surroundings during a summer. It could easily be shoved in a drawer with all the other “coming-of-age” stories, and it’s true, he does find his footing and grow up a little, but I would just as easily categorize this as a failed-to-come-of-age story. This movie is full of disgusting adult behavior. Completely inept parenting and a disregard for decisions having consequences, particularly involving impressionable minors. The adult-types presented negatively in the movie can be categorized broadly into:
a) The kind of adult who projects his own insecurities and failings onto others around him, particularly the boy.
b) The kind of adult who is so scared of losing the new prospects in her life she is unwilling to see or react accordingly to the truth, putting the adolescent boy in a helpless situation of seeing everything and being able to do nothing.
c) The kind of adult who because of past experiences is just out to get what they can when they can without caring about how their decisions will affect others. This kind of behavior is especially dangerous because it can become the damaging past experience for someone else which could then beget the same pain repeatedly.
d) The kind of adult who is so negligent they are barely in the movie.
Of the above categories, the ones which seemed most alarming to me are a combination of b and c. I’m in my early twenties and most of my friends are the same age. We’re all looking for love or success (but who am I kidding, mostly love), and we understand looking for love as a priority in the lives of others around us. We put less value on being a good friend to each other by sticking with our pre-made plans together and more value on being a good friend by letting them go out and have their chance of love. This may be fine in our twenties, but by watching this movie, I see how toxic this mindset can be if you are eventually a recently separated, divorced, single, what-have-you, with kids. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m sure that I would have difficulty putting anything before my own desperation. I particularly felt a connection to Toni Colette in her portrayal of a recently divorced and vulnerable woman infatuated with her new boyfriend. Through this movie, I lived through her decisions and hopefully, if ever faced with similar ones in real life, I will be able to recognize a chance to make different ones. From my writing so far, it probably seems like the movie was a downer, or at least more intensely psychological than it is. In fact, I found it a beautifully balanced movie. There was a deft hand used in alternating quickly between humor and sadness and beautifully lazy camera-work lingering on all the things that can, in detail, make the mundane in summer magical. Liam James who played the boy Duncan was especially impressive in an all-around amazing cast. Though a young actor, he is completely comfortable being quiet and doing nothing onscreen and seems completely unconscious to being filmed. This is so rare in an increasingly self-conscious generation obsessed with watching and being watched. The parents and adults acted wonderfully with their complicated roles and Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph provided comedic relief but had their own complexities. I left this movie feeling uplifted. I was moved to see that these young kids in the movie could go out and search for surrogate families, that they could become families for each other and be resilient to the ways we damage them. I was moved to see the way communities and strangers who have their own complications in life can find it in them to be what someone else needs should they be in the position to do so. So love your kids, your friends, your families a lot. And if you don’t do it well, show it enough, or mess up from time to time, it’s ok.
Because it might just be that you aren’t that powerful and they will pull through,