Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Key Actors: Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Liam James
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Synopsis: An awkward 14-year-old boy spends the summer with his mom and her mega-jerk boyfriend at his beach house. As he attempts to deal with a feeling of neglect and frustration, he befriends an offbeat water park owner.
Overall Rating: 2 1/2 stars
This is the film that inspired me to start this blog. In many ways The Way Way Back is a fantastic movie. The story is compelling and approachable from a family perspective. Steve Carrell plays the mega-jerk boyfriend, a break from his normal comedy that proves his acting skills. Toni Collette stars, which for me is reason enough to see the movie. It strikes that great, heart-felt balance of humor and drama. These are all wonderful things. But this movie contains some serious flaws in view of the treatment of women, which will be detailed below.
Bechdel: The Way Way Back passes the Bechdel test, but only fleetingly. There are a few micro-conversations that give it a passing grade, but nothing to cheer about.
Treatment of Women: And now for the reasons I felt the need to start this blog. As I said before, this movie has some great qualities. However, there are some glaring problems, the first of which is the normalization of voyeurism. There is a scene in which an adult teaches the awkward 14-year-old (his name is Duncan) how to trick bikini-clad girls into waiting at the top of the slide long enough to get a nice, long look at her body. It is bad enough if a teenager is being voyeuristic to other teenage girls, but he learned it from an adult. An adult looking at teenage girls. As simple as the word is, the best adjective for this is: creepy. To expound on the word, it is menacing, threatening, female objectification, and just horribly wrong. And to top it all off, there is a scene in which after the male water park workers trick the girl, they chase her down the slide and bump into her/grab her in the pool at the end, feigning that they are falling over.
Question: when did it become okay for men to make playthings out of girls and women?
Another problem I saw was that the female characters were lacking in depth. Even Toni Collette who to me has come to be synonymous with terms like “powerhouse actress,” “carries the film,” and “has a knack for making me cry,” was for the most part a blank character. I will grant that sometimes a story requires a blank character, and I could even come up with a decent argument for why that would be the case in this particular film. But it’s Toni Collette!
And let’s not forget that the other female characters can easily be defined with one or two-word descriptors: the drunk, the flirt, the brat, and the “to kiss” girl.
What if, instead of assigning women with “filler roles” women were portrayed as the dynamic human beings we are? The good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly. It’s all real, it’s all human.
To quote Junot Diaz, “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”