“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.
Since the underwhelming Bright in 2017, Netflix has been chasing a big budget action film success in vain. Yet, with big name stars drawing high streaming figures, Netflix now seems content with a regular cadence of generic and largely forgettable films instead, and that is the mould for The Adam Project from director Shawn Levy (teaming up again with Ryan Reynolds after last year’s Free Guy). Its loose time travel mechanics are forgivable but its greater flaw is laziness in establishing its sci-fi world. We never really get a sense of the stakes in 2050, or how the existence of time travel has changed the planet, and a direct reference to The Terminator serves only to highlight The Adam Project‘s comparatively weak world-building and derivative story. The action is competently choreographed, with a few memorable moments using futuristic energy and sonic weapons. A more serious tone also allows Ryan Reynolds to deliver a more emotionally nuanced performance than Free Guy, particularly in the regret Adam feels when faced with how he treated his mother as a child. Unfortunately, with the exception of Walter Scobell as his younger self, the excellent supporting cast is wasted on characters that are never developed beyond sketches. The Adam Project is enjoyable but will be forgotten within a few months.