“There’s a whole world out there for you, Duncan. Don’t settle. Not yet.”
The Way Way Back is a delight that has instantly earned a place amongst my favourite coming-of-age films, not because it breaks new ground but because it populates the familiar template with such well-realised characters that I am certain to rewatch it just to spend more time with them. This is perhaps more surprising from a pair of comedian writer-directors, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (Community‘s Dean Pelton), who let the humanity drive the humour rather than the other way round. Our sympathy for Duncan arises not from his adolescent awkwardness but the difficult family dynamic of this summer holiday, coping with his parents’ divorce and the distance he feels from his mother due to her overbearing new boyfriend Trent. Shot with a visual sheen of sun-drenched nostalgia, there is a sense of fortuitous absurdism in the ease with which Duncan is taken under the wing of workers at a water park and offered a job. Although the whole ensemble cast excels, Sam Rockwell’s performance as Owen is perhaps the key, acting as a counterpoint to Trent, immature but self-aware and unburdened by ego. The Way Way Back deserves praise for not seeking easy or fantastic resolutions to its more serious confrontation, leaving viewers with hopefulness rather than closure.
“I’ve always felt a little different than everyone else, so I did what any outsider would do. Made weird art.”
Following an unconventional family unexpectedly caught in a robot uprising, The Mitchells vs The Machines is really about family relationships, and the need to find common ground and ways to communicate. Continuing the looser approach to animation style from Into the Spider-verse, the art direction blends detailed 3D animation, flatter cell-shading, and sporadic flairs through 2D overlays. The result lends the incredibly polished production a handmade feel, mirroring Katie’s amateur filmmaking and bringing to mind the creative low-fi filmmaking in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind. Reference humour spans the generations, from Internet memes to older movies (numerous nods to Kill Bill are an unexpected choice). Like Wall-E there is an underlying warning about lazy reliance on technology, although it’s all rather on the nose, with the disaster caused by a young billionaire tech entrepreneur named Mark (“It’s almost like stealing people’s data and giving it to a hyper-intelligent AI as part of an unregulated tech monopoly was a bad thing”). Its depth may be limited to its family dynamics, but spending a couple of hours with the Mitchells is raucous fun and it is hard not to root for a family who plainly love one another, even if their abilities place them at the opposite end of the spectrum to the Incredibles.
“We’d like to get to the point where Connor is everywhere, like oxygen or gravity or clinical depression.”
Lonely Island’s take on the music mockumentary is really just a thin plot to string together the band’s signature style of lyrically ridiculous pop, and the songs are undoubtedly the highlights of the film. The scenes in between rely largely on the big names who agreed to provide cameos or talking heads, but the wow factor declines as the movie drags on. Spinal Tap remains the pinnacle of this style of filmmaking because what happens off-stage is so well-observed. Here, the by-the-numbers rise and fall, with band members falling out and reconciling, cannot quite sustain an entire movie. As with most pop stars: the key to enjoyment is just listening to the music and ignoring the rest of their antics.