For the sake of something different, I'll be including two movies together in the same post. This isn't necessarily because they are similar; it has more to do with how little time has passed between my seeing them. They are The Spectacular Now and The Way, Way Back. Both are fine movies, and good ways to start off the new school year.
First is The Spectacular Now. It is the story of Sutter, an hard-living high school senior recovering from a brutal breakup. He meets Aimee, a quiet girl he falls for in spite of himself. Their complicated relationship and differing perspectives on life end up teaching them both some important lessons.
Of the two, I think this is the better movie. Despite this synopsis, the movie doesn't really adhere to all of the hallowed tenets of the coming-of-age genre you might think it to. For starters, it is considerably more adult than the typical offering, leading me to think that it isn't necessarily about teenagers. It is about their families as well, and the world they end up coming into. Director James Ponsoldt has a very delicate touch throughout--he balances teenage romance with darker themes in a beautifully intimate palette.
The whole movie, in fact, feels like an intimate close-up. The writing and its interpretation is incredibly realistic (almost to the point of irritation, I must confess), and much of it happens in these wonderfully long takes. We aren't watching a movie, we are watching a relationship of people we know, and it is beautifully executed. By the end, everybody is not the same person as at the beginning, but it is no concrete resolution. Like any change of perspective, it is raw and untested, but full of hope.
The more general audience-friendly of the two is The Way, Way Back, which tells of The Most Awkward Summer Ever. Duncan is spending the summer with his mom and would-be step dad Trent (Steve Carell) at an out-of-the-way resort town. He doesn't get along with Trent, other growups, girls, and is trying to make his way around in a world full of dysfunction and confusion.
The Way, Way Back feels very familiar in a lot of ways. And, if left in the hands of lesser filmmakers would be nothing more than a Disney Channel Friday night movie. But it makes its mark in two ways. First, the adult characters are very well-realized. They are not the caricatures that so often plague movies like this; they are emotive and confused and as emotionally bruised as much as anybody else. Of note are the two men in Duncan's life, Trent and Owen (Sam Rockwell). Theirs are the strongest performances, and the most meaningful to the movie.
The movie is certainly enjoyable, and lighter fare than Spectacular. It is consistently funny, though it is also empowering and honest as well. That is its other strength: where convention demands that everything wrap up with misunderstandings now understood and everything happening for the best, The Way, Way Back offers something a little more true. Love is only accomplished when understanding is not a pre-requisite, and you need to choose to go there.
The Spectacular Now features Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, and is rated R for swears and teenagers doing lots of things they shouldn't.
The Way, Way Back features Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, and Liam James, and is rated PG-13 for some swears.
by Chase Harrison