Nominated for Nothing: 'The Way, Way Back'

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Image Credit: Claire Folger

Just about every year, brilliant movies are utterly ignored by the Oscars. The Searchers, Groundhog Day, Breathless, King Kong, Casino Royale, Touch of Evil, Caddyshack, Mean Streets, The Big Lebowski, Shame — the Academy has a long history of overlooking comedies, action movies, horror flicks, hard-boiled genre pics, artsy foreign films, and documentaries that aren’t about World War II. This year, we’ll be taking a closer look at films that were too small, too weird, or perhaps simply too awesome for the Academy Awards. These are the Non-Nominees.

The Film: The directorial debut from The Descendants writing team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash told the story of 14-year-old Duncan’s (Liam James) summer vacation with his mother, her new boyfriend, and said boyfriend’s daughter. Always the misfit, Duncan tries to find a way to enjoy his summer, a mission that eventually leads him to Water Wizz, the local water park. There, he’s introduced to a father-figure/friend who’s life will force Duncan to change how he sees himself.

Why it Wasn’t Nominated: Once again, an amazing film fell victim to the July release date. It sounds funny to say, considering that summer is a great time for movies to come out budget-wise, but in terms of the Oscars, if the film is released before November, its chances of being recognized might as well be cut in half. However, other than the bad timing, it’s a bit of a mystery why this one got overlooked.

At first glance, the story might not seem too original — yet another coming-of-age movie — but the film had a few key ingredients to make it into the Oscar race. As I mentioned, Faxon and Rash, along with director Alexander Payne, were the writers behind The Descendants, for which they took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Then there’s the fact that The Way, Way Back starred both Steve Carell and Toni Collette, a combination that worked wonders for Little Miss Sunshine. So why didn’t this film catch the Academy’s eye?

Could it have been the Academy’s love for overlooking Sam Rockwell? It had to have been something of the sort, because, at the end of the day, this film was loved by most, critics included. I’d go ahead and just file this under the “oops” category for the Academy and move on.

Why History Will Remember It Better Than Philomena: The Way, Way Back is equally hilarious, charming, heartwarming, and, quite frankly, aggravating (in a good way). It presents three-dimensional characters, not all of whom you’ll love, but all of whom are necessary in telling Duncan’s story. Maybe most importantly, it allows you to fall for an awkward 14-year-old protagonist — a risk that could’ve led to a very uncomfortable movie, but ended up being just the thing that made this film stand out. Well that, and Sam Rockwell, of course.

In The Way, Way Back, Rockwell plays Owen, the father-figure/friend that Duncan finds running the local water park. Owen is a breath of fresh air for Duncan, who’s used to his mother’s boyfriend’s harsh tendencies. Owen is the fast-talking joker who never fully grew up. He’s fun, and he’s kind, and he’s exactly the kind of man Duncan wants to be, or at least the kind of man Duncan needs to know exists.

In this role, Rockwell was able to show off his comedic timing, his overall charisma, and his ability to steal any and every scene he’s in. Owen isn’t perfect. Sure, he’s a nice guy, but he has problems of his own. However, it’s the depth and complexity that Rockwell brings to the role that makes Owen resonate. Owen’s character is so rich and lovable that he practically jumps off the screen, something that feels incredibly rare in cinema. He’s the guy you want to meet at the local water park. He’s the guy you root for. And now, Rockwell is the guy I root for. How the Academy can’t say the same is a mystery to me.

Rockwell aside, the film also features great performances by James, Carell (as the bad guy for once!), and Collette. Sure, it’s a coming-of-age story, but if done right, there’s nothing more complex, interesting, and full of both heart and humor. Now somebody give Rockwell an Oscar!


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