A sharp, 1980s-style comedy set in 2013.
Aug 5, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 44 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Even more important, the kids are completely on the loose in a way no kid could ever be today, due to the existence of cellphones and the like. In the context of the 1980s, the relationship between Owen and Duncan would not raise eyebrows; but after decades of pedophilia panics, it certainly would today.
Unfortunately, Faxon and Rash were obliged—surely for reasons of budgetary restraint—to set the movie in the present day. Making a period picture can add millions to a budget; so what they did, basically, was place these 1980s characters in 2013 (Trent’s 30-year-old car drives on the road past contemporary minivans; one kid texts but others don’t have phones; and so on). Faxon and Rash did what they had to do, but the layering of time periods really, really doesn’t work—and is all the more glaring because The Way Way Back is otherwise so socially exact.
The movie’s other main flaw is the performance of Liam James as Duncan. He’s a mistreated kid in pain, angry and dazed at the same time, but James is so utterly charmless you can’t understand how Owen can stand him—or how the pretty girl next door could come to take an interest in him.
All that being said, The Way Way Back is a real achievement—one of the most affecting American movies of recent years, and with a final 30 seconds that blow your socks off. How many films can you say that about?
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.
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