What an odd choice for a Friday July release. Yes, it is a bit of counterprogramming as THE LONE RANGER opens two days before and I’m guessing that even though RANGER looks dire, studios wanted to avoid another PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN shocker that steamrolls another prospective blockbuster as was LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN’s fate (although that was a pretty terrible movie too, so…who knows what hurt that one more). That said, a boutique-y kind of comedy is still an interesting choice here. And, I am hoping, a tonic for the sameness that can sometimes set into the summer movie release schedule.
THE WAY, WAY BACK has a great cast and a script from THE DESCENDANTS team of screenwriters (who also direct) and seems to boast the kind of “things will happen, but this is not a plot driven film” vibe that will feel even more different amongst the action showcases that have preceded it. It also looks to be a “coming of age in the summer” picture which is like constant catnip for me.
If you want to know what to expect (possibly) from Faxon and Rash’s writing, you should go to their first produced script (although I believe WAY was written and bought prior, but not made until the duo got clout from DESCENDANTS). And the verdict is…they’re good. Very good. You know, if the whole Oscar Winning Screenwriters thing did not convince you.
Of course, a strong screenplay does not always mean a good film. Fortunately, here it does translate. I don’t think Alexander Payne’s directed a bad movie, ever, and he keeps the streak alive here. He and his DP, Phedon Papamichael, capture the beauty of Hawaii without yielding to clichés or letting the landscape swallow up the actors.
Clooney is still Clooney, he’s too noticeable not to. That said, he settles nicely into the everyman role, letting the weariness of a day-to-day now movie star life show in his body language and speech patterns. Shailene Woodley as his on-the-edge eldest daughter matches him well, acting as both his foil and his main booster and support system. Even Matthew Lillard, an actor I associate with a certain era of movies and then disappearing, acquits himself nicely, letting the years and responsibilities that have come since his biggest roles mature his acting chops.
No one in WAY appears in this movie (at least, not that I’m aware of). It shares no directors, writers, or composers in common (again, as far as I am aware). Yet, the moment I saw the first trailer, ADVENTURELAND was the first movie I thought of. The initial connection is obvious, an amusement park in the summer. But there is more to it than that.
Both seem to be about unhappy people of the brink of big changes not being understood by their usual supports and finding that understanding otherwise. Both “feel” like summer, both too fast and endless, wrapping us in that weird non-time space where everything seems like it could happen any second and yet every moment seems to slip away too quickly. Both seem to unfold in a specific era but, within the confines of the park, that era could truly be “any time, USA.”
ADVENTURELAND skew a bit older. The lead, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is about to go to college (although it is not as sewn up as it initially appears) and needs to make money in a hurry (as opposed to in WAY, where, I believe, the kid is about to be a high school student). He stumbles upon his only option, a sort of used up amusement park, the kind that doesn’t exist as much these days, more like a traveling carnival taken root than a Six Flags extrazaganza. The simple summer job quickly becomes complicated as Eisenberg falls in love with Kristen Stewart’s Em and in lust with at least one other. Em, in turn, loves a married, fraudulent Ryan Reynolds (really, really good…just a callous guy who achingly wants to be more and seems to undo himself at every turn). He becomes best friends with a defeated Martin Starr. What was once just something to make money and pass the time becomes his world and then it elevates him…until it turns on him and nearly destroys him in the process.
That’s a little hyperbolic, I suppose…but it is an questionably touching fun film that shows that things that help us grow up can also be the thinks that hurt us the most if we don’t move on when we should. Big recommendation.