The Way, Way Back (2013)

THE WAY, WAY BACK

Directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Written by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring: Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and Liam James.

The Oscar-winning duo that brought us The Descendants make their directorial debut with The Way, Way Back a coming-of-age story set in a summer beach town about a 14 year old boy’s quest to build confidence and find a sense of belonging and trust.  The movie is funny, sweet and brimming with nostalgia. As A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote: “Its situations and feelings seem drawn more from available, sentimental ideas about adolescence than from the perceptions of any particular adolescent,” which, while true, doesn’t account for the endearing performances that give the movie a sense of uniqueness.

What I liked:  Strong direction and heartfelt performances are what make this film work.  Each character, no matter their screen time, offers a sense of depth that carries the emotion of the film, starting with Liam James whose awkward and introverted performance is spot on and a testament to the 17 year old’s acting chops.  Seasoned vets, Alison Janney and Sam Rockwell provide all the rich humour of the film from their first seconds on screen.  In fact, Janney’s introduction is one of the funniest and most effective I’ve seen in a while, not to mention her off-colour relationship with her son; and Rockwell, flighty and flawed, provides the film’s best dialogue.  Maya Rudolf, Steve Carrell, Amanda Peet and Toni Collette round out a stellar cast that works in harmony, even when they are at odds with each other.

What I didn’t like:  This movie has been on my watch list since it was released this past summer.  Happily, the movie didn’t disappoint despite a routine premise and narrative that has been done many times before.  The good news is that the writing is strong enough to make an oft-told framework successful and entertaining despite a predictable finish.

My rating:  I want Allison Janney to be my neighbour and Sam Rockwell to be my boss.

My IMDb  Rating:  8/10     tomato: 85%

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker and Anupam Kher.

Oscar Nominations:  Actor (Bradley Cooper), Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Supporting Actor (Robert de Niro), Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver), Editing, Screenplay (Adapted), Directing and Picture.

I’m a huge fan of David O. Russell so needless to say I was pretty excited to see his take on the romantic comedy.   I enjoyed the story, about a young man trying to come to terms with his bipolar disorder, his father and the rejection of his ex with the help of young woman who forces him to face his reality; and I enjoyed the performances but, I have to admit, I came away from it a little mystified by the acclaim and Oscar nominations.

What I liked:  Bradley Cooper is excellent as Pat and he was convincing enough to let me forget he was ‘Bradley Cooper’.  I was also happy to see Jacki Weaver nominated for her performance as Pat’s mother, the cracked glue trying desperately to hold her family together, as she could have easily been overlooked for the subtlety of her role compared to the neurosis around her.  The casting is excellent and I liked that I could finally enjoy a romantic comedy that focused on the characters rather than the formulaic plot points.

What I didn’t like:  I thought Robert de Niro was admirable as Pat’s equally neurotic father but there was so much depth to his character that it felt like Russell tried to force too much into the brief moments when he was on screen.  That is only one instance where I felt the editing failed.  The transitions also felt strained and at times I wanted to see the missing gaps that had been pared down to make this choppy final cut.  Finally, Jennifer Lawrence was enjoyable as Tiffany and her performance stands above the role of  ‘love interest’ in most romantic comedies but I never forgot for a moment that she was ‘Jennifer Lawrence.’

My rating:  Don’t believe the hype.  Sure it’s a good, heartfelt, funny movie but Best Picture? Nah.

IMDB: 8.1

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

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Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Written by: Derek Connolly
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Karan Soni and Jake Johnson

One review I read compared Safety Not Guaranteed to The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  How they made that leap is beyond me.  Colin Trevorrow’s indie dramedy, about three journalists who decide to chase down and write a story about the author of a personal ad who is seeking a partner with whom to time travel, is quirky but has nothing close to the depth of Eternal Sunshine.  The comparison, however, basically summed up what I didn’t like about it: I just didn’t feel the “sweet, oddball sadness” that permeated the latter.   Here, I liked the characters and I understood their pain and dissatisfaction but it didn’t reach me.  There was something uncomfortable about it which might have been the point but it didn’t help to make this movie memorable despite its unique, and true (the movie is based on a real personal ad) premise.  That said, there is something enjoyable about the movie where the dialogue, story and editing move it forward with charm and grace.  It is not overambitious and without comparisons stands well enough on its own.

What I liked:  The eccentricity of each character feels natural and never forced.  The relationships are rushed but sincere and the rugged style merely enhances the finale.  There is something true about these characters and their lives.  The casting is flawless, especially Mark Duplass as the time traveller dealing with his loneliness better than the rest.

What I didn’t like: I really can’t pinpoint it.  The movie, in its way, is beautiful but I felt Trevorrow kept his characters at a distance from his audience, as if the movie ends just as we were beginning to understand these individuals.

My rating: I’d have these characters over for dinner.

IMDB: 7.1

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%