The Way, Way Back
With the same dramedy appeal of films like “Juno” and “Little Miss Sunshine” (and with a few shared faces), 2013’s “The Way, Way Back” struck me as one of the most emotionally real comedies I’ve seen in a while. The script, written by co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who also star as two of the film’s funniest characters), smartly balances witty lines with a visceral emotional punch. At the heart of the story is Duncan, a socially awkward teenager (Liam James) who is dragged by his mom’s (Toni Collette) new boyfriend (Steve Carell) to a beach house for summer vacation. He’s told to have fun, but it’s not that easy. Not with his fascist potential new stepdad telling him to be more social. That is, until he finds Water Whizz, a shabby waterpark run by a crew of hilarious characters (Faxon and Rash, plus Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph). But he can’t avoid his home life forever. James is so awkward it hurts. But you buy it the whole time. Carell and Collette give incredible performances, and Sam Rockwell is as hysterical as ever (see “Seven Psychopaths“). Allison Janney is at the top of her game, Rob Cordry is just as funny, plus Amanda Peet and AnnaSophia Robb give worthy performances. This is the type of movie you want to add to your collection to watch again and again. Mostly because it knows that life never goes exactly as you’d like it to, but it’s always up to you to make it the best it can be. 8/10.
The Place Beyond the Pines
Somewhere in the middle of the 140-minute saga “The Place Beyond the Pines,” you realize that the time you’ve spent getting invested hasn’t been a waste. A meandering plot intermingles the stories of a bank thief (Ryan Gosling) and an ambitious young cop (Bradley Cooper), the mothers of their kids (Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne), and their young sons (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen) in a way that would seem impossible if I tried to explain it. Somehow, director/screenwriter Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”) makes it all work. That’s despite the fact that the acting never gets where it needs to be. Oscar nominees Cooper and Gosling have both been much better in dramatic roles, despite the obvious emotions they could have inserted into their characters here. Still, though, they were able to push viewers into believing the personal trials their characters are put through. I love full and exhaustive stories, ones that cover a lot of ground really well. Usually it takes a narrator or a few montages to cover so much ground, but “The Place Beyond the Pines” never takes you out of the thick of the story to tell you what you need to know. 7.5/10.