Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Way, Way Back (Again)

I went to see The Way, Way Back again this evening, two days after seeing it for the first time. I saw it in the Screen cinema, which I somehow contrived to never have visited before, despite being a very ardent cinema-goer, and despite the Screen being one of the very few city centre cinemas in Dublin.

I simply cannot recommend The Way, Way Back strongly enough. I have seen four hundred and forty-one films in the cinema (I know exactly how many since I record them, in an unabashedly anorak way, on a spreadsheet), and I've seen at least that many again on DVD, video and television. And I have no doubt that The Way, Way Back is in the top twenty of all the films I've ever seen, and may even be in the top ten. It really is that good.

There isn't a dull scene in this movie-- there's hardly a dull moment. The word that keeps coming to mind when I think of it is "perfect". Not that the whole movie is perfect (there's no such thing as a perfect movie, in my experience), but the individual scenes are very often judged to perfection-- not overplayed, not underplayed, not too long, not too short, not too cheesy, not too scared of cheesiness.

One example will suffice. Steve Carell plays the villain of the film, the overbearing and subtly sadistic stepfather of the protagonist, who is a shy and dreamy fourteen-year-old boy called Duncan. The film opens with the stepfather asking Duncan how he rates himself on a scale of one to ten. Upon Duncan (reluctantly) rating himself as a six, the stepfather disagrees and tells Duncan that he rates him as a three-- because he doesn't make an effort, he says, adding that "the good news" is that all this is going to change.

Would an adult really say such a thing to the child of the woman he's dating? The achievement of the film is that it makes it seem very plausible. Not only this, but we buy into the idea that the stepfather-- with his designer stubble, his rather heavy-handed charm, and his overbearing confidence-- would not only succeed in seducing the boy's mother, but would also manage to have friends of the calibre we see in the movie, who are fundamentally likeable people.

Not that this is a realistic movie. In fact, it's the purest fantasy. Specifically, it's the fantasy of a fourteen-year-old boy, and the fourteen-year-old boy inside every adult male. (For this reason it might appeal less to women, though the women in the cinema this evening seemed to enjoy it.) Every boy wants to have a friend like the friend Duncan finds in the local water-park manager-- an adult in a position of responsibility who is never angry, and who is always fun, but is also willing to become a father figure when needed. And every boy yearns for the kind of female friend that Duncan makes-- a pretty, clever girl who is not (too) intimidating, is fascinated by him, and is there to comfort him when he needs comforting. Real life isn't like this-- more's the pity.

But in one respect, this movie reminds me of my own life. The waterpark is portrayed as more of a family than a workplace, all of the staff apparently having a blast every day and partying together after hours. This reminds me of my own job. I've worked in UCD library since 2001, and it's always felt like home-- a place where I grew up, a place where I was accepted, a background for the joys and the dramas of my life, even a second family. I don't go along with the idea that entertainment is always wish-fulfilment. Sometimes we like to see a fictional representation of the things that we actually have. Seeing this movie gave me a keener appreciation of my job.

I intend to catch this film again before it leaves theatres, and you can bet I'll buy the DVD when it comes out. I urge you to go to see it, too. If you don't like it, I'll reimburse you the price of the ticket myself. (Note: Offer is not legally enforceable.)

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