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Carrell displays drama prowess in ‘The Way Way Back’

Date: 12/12/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

This week in the movie review column is a film that you might have missed but shouldn’t and a pop cultural phenomena that has been released on DVD.

The Way Way Back

This dramedy received some release earlier this year and was sold in a manner to suggest it was another coming-of-age summer comedy. The film really isn’t that kind of story.

Instead, we get a movie that brings its viewers on a rollercoaster of real emotion. You will laugh, cringe, get angry and probably realize behaviors you’ve seen in yourself or others.

The result is a well-written and acted film that stands above its comedy genre and is compelling as a drama.

Fourteen-year-old Duncan (Liam James) is miserable. He is on his way to a Massachusetts beach community to spend part of the summer with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) at his summerhouse. The problem is that Trent is a first class jerk, who believes he is building a relationship with Duncan by tearing him down at every opportunity.

Pam clearly sees this, but is so desperate to have a relationship that she ignores Duncan’s pain.

After exploring the community a bit, Duncan discovers a water park and more importantly is discovered by its owner, Owen (Sam Rockwell), who gives him a job and takes him under his wing. Owen is the anti-Trent, and Duncan begins to have his own life apart from what is happening at the summerhouse.

While there are some great comedic moments, this film is a very real drama about divorce, how adults try to regain their emotional footing and the toll it takes on children. The brilliance of the script and direction by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash – who won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay with Alexander Payne for “The Descendants” in 2012 – is what lifts this film out of soap opera and makes it truly enjoyable to watch.

The performances are first class and James carries the weight of the film as Duncan. Carrell, by the way, proves he can do drama and play a very unpleasant character to boot.

This is a film well worth discovering.

The Day of the Doctor

BBC Home Video has rushed out this 50th anniversary special “Dr. Who” film to capitalize on its worldwide broadcast last month and it offers a twin attraction: “Whovians” will want the film for their collection and people new to the character and the program will have a package that serves as an introduction.

Briefly, “Dr. Who” is a science fiction TV program that debuted in 1963. The lead character is an alien who can travel through time and space in his T.A.R.D.I.S. and is usually accompanied by one or more human companions. More than a 1,000 year old, The Doctor doesn’t exactly die, but regenerates into a new body and personality – a trait that has kept the show alive and well for years.

The stories themselves, since the revival of the show in 2005 have been a mix of humor, science fiction, social statements and horror. They have been written for both children and adults and I’m sure in many households two generations are watching the program.

The current Doctor, Matt Smith, is nearing the end of his tour of duty as the character and Scottish actor Peter Capaldi has been selected as the next incarnation.

This film, though attempts and succeeds, to address the darkest moment in the series’ universe: that The Doctor was responsible for ending the war between his home planet and the robotic Daleks by unleashing a weapon that destroyed all of the combatants and inhabitants.

Amazingly enough, the screenplay is able to weave together a rare meeting of three of the doctor’s incarnations who address this act of genocide and do it in a manner that is truly entertaining and actually moving. The script is full of details, but I understood most, even though I’m a casual fan.

If you’re not a Whovian but interested in finding out about this rich character, get ahold of this release – it comes in one package with 3-D Blu-Ray, regular Blu-Ray and DVD discs – and watch the special “Understanding Dr. Who” first. Then afterwards watch the “making of” extra.

By the end, you just might be a fan.