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From Under A Rock: The Way Way Back

June 3, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: The Way Way Back  


This week’s pick was a movie I actually saw in theaters simply because I liked the poster. Then when I found out it was cowritten by Jim Rash, I could hardly contain my excitement (for those who don’t know, he was Dean Pelton in Community but is also an Academy Award-winning screenwriter). Simply put, this movie is one of my favorites in the “coming of age” genre, but it’s also a great summer movie, thus kicking off a summer FULL of summer-themed picks made by yours truly (Michael). And I know it isn’t technically summer yet, but it’s starting to get hot and sunny and I’m in Los Angeles, so I’m counting it!

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron chose Wonder Woman (2009). This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock to show him The Way Way Back.

The Way Way Back
Released: July 5th, 2013
Written & Directed by: Jim Rash & Nat Faxon
Liam James as Duncan
Sam Rockwell as Owen
Steve Carell as Trent Ramsey
Toni Collette as Pam
AnnaSophia Robb as Susanna

Michael Ornelas: I’ve been waiting for what I consider to be the start of the summer season before picking this movie for Aaron, but it flew under a lot of people’s radars. It’s worth checking out so I wanted to bring it to our FUARdience, and encourage all of you to give it a watch!

Aaron Hubbard: This movie had an immediate emotional effect on me, but I was worried it would be a bit too overbearing to be enjoyable. But once Sam Rockwell showed up, the film became very enjoyable and I really liked it.
Finding Significance
Michael: The film isn’t shy in its themes. The opening bit of dialogue in the film has Trent (Steve Carell) asking Duncan how he views himself on a scale of 1-10. He then proceeds to tell this kid (who is the son of his girlfriend) that he thinks he’s a 3. It’s mortifying, but in many ways, you can actually see how this quiet pushover of a kid could be considered wholly unremarkable, but you immediately want more for him. You don’t know where the movie is headed, but you want Duncan to make some sort of impression. Cue the water park. Duncan immediately finds a family that accepts and loves him, and he never feels taken for granted. I genuinely choke up at the end of the movie (which I won’t spoil, as I doubt many of you readers will have seen this one yet). Duncan’s journey is relatable to anyone who’s ever felt undervalued and greater than they’re perceived.

Aaron: Watching Duncan was a bit tough for me; I immediately saw myself in the quiet, awkward kid who doesn’t really know how to show or handle affection. (Yes, I actually am quiet away from the keyboard most of the time). Identifying that made the journey resonate that much more, but I really appreciated the skill with which this is done. This never really feels like a movie to me; everyone just comes across like a real person, saying things that people might say or do. I really appreciated how down to earth everything felt. Since, in some ways, it’s a wish fulfillment movie, having that grounded sense to it was really fresh.

Michael: The groundedness of this film is everything. Every idiosyncrasy of the characters flesh them out in ways that make them both relatable and 100% unique. We may not all lie on the roof of a car with headphones in, sing poorly, and be overheard by a girl we think is cute, but every single one of us can relate to that feeling of embarrassment.
Contrasting Parent Figures
Aaron: I alluded to this earlier, but the first twenty minutes of this were a tough watch for me. Steve Carell and Allison Janney play characters that are just at the peak of annoyance for me. Without naming names, they remind me a lot of one of my friends’ parents; always acting like they mean well but insidiously digging at their children in ways that just make me want to rake their eyes out with my finger nails. This behavior, which I’ve taken to describing as “benign dickishness”, is just soul crushing. But it also works as a perfect foil for the equally benign compassion of Owen. Sam Rockwell never makes overt, cheesy statements about his feelings. His actions reveal them.

Michael: Owen is flat-out one of the best kinds of people. They exist in real life and they don’t let others feel “less than” — they strive to build people up. Steve Carell’s character also reminds me of people I know (not naming names), and seeing Duncan stand up for himself against this asshole makes me feel genuine pride for the kid. This movie really shows off its strengths when you realize just how emotionally invested you’ve become. I also really like the arc of Pam (Duncan’s passive mother) in all of this. She represents the difficulty of dating as an older woman, and you can tell she feels that she’s with Trent because she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to do any better at her age. She overlooks the psychological abuse being thrown in her son’s direction for selfish reasons, which is horrible, but it’s also very true to life because most abuse isn’t physical or overt. It creeps in through subtlety and wears people down without ever feeling like anything big ever caused it.

Aaron: Pam really did surprise me throughout, and in keeping with everything else, it’s very understated. I think the only person who has a huge emotional outburst scene is Duncan when he confronts Trent, which feels appropriate and contrasts him with the adults. I also can’t emphasize enough how much I love Sam Rockwell in this. Owen is such a likable (but far from perfect) guy and his intentions are so genuine. I think it also shows the positive influence that a good work environment can have; the transition from functioning with parents or teachers to a boss is huge and can really help mold people in a positive way.
Keeping It Light
Michael: Aaron previously mentioned how tough the first 20 minutes of the film is tough to watch. That’s true because it’s largely just introducing the struggles to be faced/overcome throughout the story. But once it settles in, this movie gives a lot of laughs and heartfelt moments as well. I don’t think Allison Janney’s character is as bad as Aaron did because she at least still shows affection toward her kids. But she does show that she’s very out-of-touch with her son and that actually creates a decent amount of comedy as she belittles his “dolls” while he insists they’re “action figures” (a discussion I’ve had with many a girlfriend). She also picks on him for putting people off with his lazy eye, which may not be advisable (to expect comedy from a physical impairment), but the kid is so dang funny about it that it becomes worth it. That arc is made even better when Owen embraces the eye and tells the kid to wear it like a badge of honor since it makes him unique. Everything about this movie encourages individuality and it’s just a blast.

Aaron: Yeah, Allison’s character is more annoying than flat out awful, so I will amend that. She’s exceptionally good at playing those types of characters. But yeah, this film made me laugh quite a bit, and the laughs feel very genuine and earned. Owen is a constant source of humor, but I also really liked scenes like the break dance on cardboard or the “going away party” because it just feels like people connecting and enjoying each other. That’s what family and friendship is supposed to look like.

Michael: Seeing the camaraderie of the park employees filled me with joy. They seemed like such a fun bunch, all unique in their own ways. It made me want to work there, and that’s a feat because I don’t want to work anywhere.

Aaron: This one really took me by surprise by being willing to portray asshole parents in a mature, realistic way. But it takes that same honesty and makes the fantasy of having a positive parental figure feel equally real. It’s a great modern coming of age story.


Michael: There’s very little to nitpick with this movie. It assembled a great cast of characters (including supporting actors not mentioned: Amanda Peet, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, and Jim Rash) and let an honest script portray very real people. Not everyone is likable, but that’s the way life is. It’s a film about small victories, loving who you are, and showing the world that you’re greater than they think you are.


Aaron: I really appreciated this pick, so thank you for choosing it.

Michael: Fo sho, homie.

What’s your favorite summer-themed movie?

Next week:

Aaron: Let’s keep with the coming of age theme by going to a real classic, the film that solidified James Dean as an icon.
Michael: This is one that I hear references to all the time (or at least the name), and have never gone out of my way to see. I’m curious to see what all the fuss is about.

Aaron: A lot of it is just catching something in its zeitgeist, but I think it still holds up really well.

What is your favorite classic teen movie?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate, Face/Off, Snowpiercer, The Exorcist, Hellboy, Village of the Damned, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Idiocracy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Fly (1986), Under the Skin, Die Hard, Dredd, Star Wars Holiday Special, A Christmas Story, Snakes on a Plane, The Big Lebowski, Bulworth, Raging Bull, Thank You for Smoking, John Wick, Mulholland Drive, The Karate Kid, Lucky Number Slevin, The Searchers, Black Dynamite, Labyrinth, Rick & Morty, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Abyss, Seven Samurai, Bio-Dome, Memento, L.A. Confidential, Tangled, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Wonder Woman, The Way Way Back

Aaron Has Another Column!
Check out my in-depth review of Superman: The Movie, which I wrote in anticipation of the Wonder Woman release.

Aaron is now on Letterboxd!
Check me out here to see my star ratings for over 800 films. Recent reviews include Pacific Rim, 1951’s Alice in Wonderland, and Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
This flew under the radar a bit, and I would say that is unfortunate. It's a really well-made, honest, and heartfelt coming of age story, nicely balancing comedy and drama. And Sam Rockwell is flat out amazing in this. It's worth going out of your way to see, as we would consider it one of the decade's more underrated hidden gems.