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Summer Coming-of-Age Stories: Way Way Back and Kings of Summer

The other day I treated myself to a double feature at my local independent theater. I saw “The Kings of Summer” and “The Way Way Back.” Both films cover the the same coming-of-age, parents-just-don’t-understand material, but in very different ways.

And both are worth seeing.

KingsofSummer Up first is “The Kings of Summer.” A heavier dramady (emphasis on the drama) about three teenage friends that run away from their suburban Ohio homes to live in the woods. The build their own house and make a pact to live off the land. In their quest for independence, friendships are tested, first loves are lost, and everyone learns a little more about themselves.

On the surface, this film is about a high school freshman trying to rush his transition from boy to man. But the story is deeper than that. It’s more about the relationship between father and son.

Joe, our hero (Nick Robinson), and his father Frank (Nick Offerman) have a … strenuous relationship. They don’t know how to communicate with each other. Joe’s mom died some years earlier and in the words of Frank, “Joe was a momma’s boy.” Joe is convinced he doesn’t need his father and wants to use this summer to prove that.

But the more time he spends away from home the more he seems to parallel his father. Though, only the audience gets to see this. Both men are obviously hurt by the loss still but don’t know how to move beyond it.

Joe’s best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) has the opposite problem; his parents (Megan Mullally  and  Marc Evan Jackson) are a bit … clingy. Ok, they’re downright smothering. Patrick needs this summer to prove to them, and himself, that he is growing up.

Our third adventurer, Biaggio (Moises Arias), is kinda an odd kid that just seems to be along for the ride. He’s an outrageous character and acts as a foil to lighten the tenser moments of the story.

kings of summer house

Everyone in the cast did an exceptional job. What I was most impressed with was the realness of the characters (with the exception of Biaggio) and the dialog. Nothing felt forced or contrived. You ached for Joe and Frank and just wanted to give both of them a hug.

While watching them run away you know it’s wrong but you also really want them to succeed. Look at the house they build and tell me that’s not impressive for three 15-year-olds. You have to give them props for the thought they really put into this.

I will warn people though about something I didn’t consider when choosing this movie. The majority of this movie is in the woods, and certain legless reptiles, I dare not speak the name of, live in the woods, and that leads to a very tense climax of the movie where this animal gets a lot of screen time. That being said, I still recommend this movie.

THE WAY, WAY BACKNext is “The Way Way Back.” This dramady (emphasis on the comedy) tackles the same idea, and while still serious at moments, is overall much lighter and pulls a bit more on the heartstrings.

Duncan (Liam James), is forced to spend the summer with his mom, Pam (Toni Collette), and her douchy boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), at his beach house. While trying to spend as little time around them he gets a job at the local water park managed by Owen (Sam Rockwell). While there never ceases to be drama at home, Duncan finds friends, happiness, and a sense of self at the water park.

First, can we talk about this cast! Not only is there Collette, Carell, and the amazing Rockwell, but the supporting cast is rounded out by Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, and Amanda Peet. Plus the film’s co-writers and directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. (Rash you may know as the dean from “Community” or Not Moby for all you “HIMYM” fans.

Everyone does a phenomenal job. I couldn’t believe I was watching Brick Tamland. While you think crazy comedy when you think of Carell you forget that he can do serious and dark too. It was nice to be reminded of that.

Janney, as the loud-mouthed, gossipy neighbor is spot-on. I love her in everything I see, so I’m a bit biased. I like to think of her character here as a continuation of her character from “Away We Go.” She’s funny and over-the-top and a delight to watch. Everyone in the cast plays their part to a “T”.

the-way-way-back-steve-carell-sam-rockwellThe stand out part of this film for me was Rockwell and his character. Owen may be one of my favorite cinematic characters. He comes off as a slacker, goofball type, but from the first time we see him you know he’s deeper than that. He knows Duncan is unhappy and steps up as a friend and father-figure. He’s there when Duncan needs to talk, or just have some fun, and even physically puts himself in between Trent and Duncan when he has to.

And Rockwell’s delivery and comedic timely should be studied in this movie. He’s hilarious. A big part of that is the script, but a big part of that is just him. He’s one of those actors that I forget I love so much until I see them in a movie. He never disappoints me.

The beginning of this film feels a bit muddled to me, like they’re trying to establish what kind of movie this is going to be. Another downside is the lead. He’s too depressing and awkward almost. You feel too sorry for him. In part, that’s to make his turn around that much more dramatic. But sometimes it was uncomfortable to watch, like someone yelling a puppy.

I really liked both of these films. I loved different elements of “The Way Way Back” and while I didn’t feel that strongly about anything in “The Kings of Summer” I think it’s a stronger overall movie. But if I had to pick one, I’d rather see “Way Back” again. Probably just for Owen/ Rockwell.

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