Sunday, September 1, 2013

Just When I Thought it was Stupid to go Back to the Cinema...

Readers of this blog will know that I have a long-running love affair with the cinema. And, like all love affairs, it has its ups and downs, its frustrations and rocky patches. I've been going through one recently.

But today...I went to the cinema and discovered that the magic is still there. The poster for the movie I went to see claimed that it would revive my faith in the spirit of humanity. It didn't quite do that, but it did revive my languishing faith in the movies.

The film was The Way, Way Back and I'm already looking forward to seeing it again as soon as possible. It really did "make me laugh and make me cry"-- several times, in both cases. I left the cinema on a high, feeling that I had been given a new gusto for life, and that I wanted to reach out to the people I loved. That's what I want a movie to do to me. Entertainment isn't enough. Entertainment is enough for television, but the cinema is too big a setting, too much of an occasion, for mere entertainment.

Yes, The Way, Way Back is an independent movie, and I usually avoid independent movies. Yes, it's a coming-of-age movie. Yes, it's quirky and charming and feel-good, and all the other things that almost every indie movie ever made seems to aspire towards.

But who cares if it's formulaic? What movie or book isn't formulaic to some degree? I've always insisted that indie movies are every bit as formulaic as big budget blockbusters. But that's nothing against big budget blockbusters-- and it's nothing against independent movies, either. The only important question, in either case, is how well it's done.

The main setting of the story is a waterpark, which instantly gives it a headstart with me, since I'm never happier than when I'm splashing about in water. The water-park is (improbably) managed by a happy-go-lucky beach bum castaway from the eighties, played by Sam Rockwell, and the heart of the movie is his friendship with the protagonist, fourteen-year-old Duncan. Steve Carell stars as the boy's odious and sleazy step-father. (One of the best things about the film is that it makes no effort to take the edge off the step-father's sheer awfulness. The story is already so sweet and feel-good that it needs Carell's superbly obnoxious performance to save it from becoming downright saccharine.)

The film has all the usual indie virtues, but avoids most of the indie vices. There's no studied aimlessness on display here. The story, despite a satisfyingly slow-burning tempo, keeps moving. The dialogue is purposeful and never overdone. Characters are clear-cut. The vignettes serve the story.

It's been many years since I kept up with the movie news, so I hadn't heard anything about the movie. I had no expectations at all, except a soft spot towards coming-of-age stories. Come to think of it-- and remembering how many of my happiest cinema memories come from happening upon movies I'd never heard of-- this is probably a good reason to start avoiding cinema reviews altogether.

This blog officially encourages you to go see The Way, Way Back! Don't wait for DVD-- this is one that has to be seen on the big screen, without distraction from the dog, the doorbell, and the damned phone.

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