REVIEW: ‘The Way Way Back’ & ‘This Is Where I Leave You’

by Maria Siragusa, FILM CRITIC
20 November 2017


Each holiday season–including this one–film fans are exposed to every manner of movie with its perfect cookie cutter family and perfectly-orchestrated conflict resolution, from It’s a Wonderful Life to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to A Christmas Story. And while there’s a place for these family friendly films and the seemingly incorruptible nuclear families who populate them, contemporary society reminds us that there must also be a place for those film families that are a bit more dysfunctional, a bit more chaotic, a bit real.

This year, take a well-deserved vacation from the Griswolds and George Bailey and spend the evening with these films that highlight many of the authentic abnormalities that we can probably glimpse as we look around our own dinner tables. Spend the evening with some families that, while apparently completely out of hope, remind us of the different ways that hope can somehow manifest itself.




In The Way Way Back, Liam James stars as an awkward teenager who must contend with the challenges of a summer holiday he didn’t ask for, a well-meaning but overbearing single mother (Toni Collette), and a would-be worst stepdad of the year (Steve Carell). Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox.


Forced to tag along on a summer-long trip to the beach, awkward teenager Duncan (Liam James), finds himself longing to get away from the constant supervision of his mother Pam, (Toni Collette) the drunken shenanigans occurring at the beach, and the belittling nature of the stepfather from hell, Trent (Steve Carell). While wandering aimlessly through this small Massachusetts beach town, he stumbles upon what is to become his own hidden paradise, Water Wizz Water Park, and gets unexpectedly taken under the wing of outgoing and unrestrained park manager Owen (Sam Rockwell). This friendship keeps Duncan grounded as he deals with the  struggles of his not so perfect life.

Duncan’s initial portrayal is painfully cringey, yet extremely accurate. Viewers can easily relate to the awkward middle school years of their lives where speaking to others was an issue, and talking to a crush was near impossible. The development of his relationship with the girl next door, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) was just as accurately portrayed. What started off as uncomfortable conversations blossomed into a heartwarming relationship. Script writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash brilliantly incorporate comedy into this complex and emotional coming of age story. Even in scenes that evoke floods of emotion, there is always some sort of joke that gets cracked, or awkward incident that occurs. A large portion of this is due to Duncan’s friendship with Owen. The two, though very different in age and personality, are both able to learn from each other in a way that is sure tug at the heartstrings of any viewer. Their friendship helps contribute to the overall meaning behind Duncan’s journey, which is actually quite beautiful- tears are a definite possibility during this film.

Duncan doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere, which is a dilemma that many teenagers encounter. His disarrayed mindset combined with the divorce of his parents, and life with his new demeaning stepfather make for a moving story certain to entertain.

The Way Way Back is rated PG-13.




An ensemble cast makes up the most dysfunctional family imaginable in This Is Where I Leave You. The cast includes (from left to right) Jason Bateman, Connie Britton, Tina Fey, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Jane Fonda, and Adam Driver. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers.


Reunited by the death of their father, the four grown Altman  children are brought to their childhood home by their mother, insisting them to sit shiva – seven days of mourning to honor the deceased- even though Mom’s not Jewish, and Dad was an atheist. As the family comes back together, the audience is pulled into the problems of their crazy stressful lives. Problems range from Judd’s (Jason Bateman) failed, adulterous marriage, to Phillip’s (Adam Driver) latest romantic fling with a successful cougar, and to Wendy’s (Tina Fey) current marriage that appears to be dissolving before her very eyes.

This candid movie, based on the hilarious and touching best-selling novel by Jonathan Tropper, was wonderfully directed by Shawn Levy and features a dreamy, star-filled cast that is sure to catch anyones attention. It’s thoughtful script displays each character’s strengths, as Tina Fey constantly provides droll comments as the only sister of the Altman children, and Adam Driver serves as the family’s consummate screw-up, making for a plethora of laughable moments. There is definitely no lack of interesting chaos happening in the movie. All of the Altman’s problems are brought center stage. The only well-adjusted member of the family seems to be Wendy’s son, and his successful use of a portable potty. Even though the main reason this family came together was the death of their beloved father, this is not at all a sad movie. Rather, it is one that reveals the mishaps and real happenings within your average family.

This Is Where I Leave You is rated R.



Maria Siragusa is a film critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the HOWL

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