Two movies that are remarkably similar in basic plot: somewhat shy, socially awkward boy on the threshold of growing up, with no good father-figure, navigating life and trying to find his place, searching for meaning, finally meets a man that he can emulate, look up to and admire. Why did I love one and hate the other? Why is one a 5/5 stars, and the other 1 star (or, actually, 0, if that's allowed...) What did one get so right that the other got so wrong? Let me count the ways...
Allow me to introduce our young stars: as I already mentioned, our 14-year-old heroes are both a little shy and awkward. They are quiet, serious, intelligent, sensitive and deep-thinkers.
Here's Liam James, as Duncan from The Way, Way Back and Tye Sheridan as Ellis from Mud.
At the beginning of The Way, Way Back we see Duncan in the very back of his mother's new boyfriend's station wagon. The boyfriend, Trent, played by Steve Carrell, asks Duncan to rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10.. Duncan eventually answers with "6" to which Trent counters with "3." He then prompts him to improve on that number while he stays at the beach house that summer while Duncan shoves his ear-buds back in to escape.
At the beginning of Mud we meet Ellis, driving around and selling fish with his dad, who seems to be a bit gruff and callous. After selling the fish, Ellis goes with his best friend, Neckbone, to scout out an old boat that was deposited on an island in the upper branches of a tree by a flood a long time ago. I didn't connect with Ellis as well as Duncan because it took almost the whole movie for me to begin to understand him. I felt for Duncan and had a connection with him in the first 5 minutes. None of the characters from Mud really resonated with me at all. That's 1.
Note: Spoilers ahead! If you haven't seen either of these movies, and you're interested in seeing them, I suggest that you not read on. Here are my sister's spoiler-free reviews for Mud and The Way, Way Back from her blog, How To Watch A Movie.
Enter the new father-figure/role model/mentor. Duncan in The Way, Way Back gets Sam Rockwell in the form of irresponsible water-park manager Owen. He's goofy and a bit immature, but sees that Duncan needs him and needs an escape from his "family," so he gives him a job for the summer. His acceptance and encouragement helps Duncan grow, and escape his despondency. Owen also matures through the movie, and by the end has become a bit more mature and responsible. Whatever his flaws, he truly cares about Duncan, and was a good influence.
|Duncan and Susanna at the water park.|
|May Pearl and Ellis on their first "date."|
|Cold, selfish, annoying and conflicted Juniper from Mud.|
Ultimately, I think that Mud sends the message that life is hard, true love doesn't exist, and no one is really a good person. I can agree that life is sometimes hard, and no one is really a good person (without Christ), but I don't like to watch depressing entertainment and I definitely disagree on the point that true love doesn't exist. The hard parts of life and bad characters can serve to sweeten the good characters and happy parts of life, so I'm not saying that they don't have a place in a movie, but when there are no good characters, and no cheerful sides to the story, I'm not going to enjoy it. Mud had no redeeming aspects for me, and I didn't enjoy it at all. Watching it was about as enjoyable as sitting and staring at real mud. That's 4.
|Sweet special moment as Owen comforts and encourages Duncan.|
I look for hope, real love, and Christ-likeness in every movie. The Way, Way Back has its flaws, to be sure, but I found in it what I like to see. After seeing The Way, Way Back, I found Mud to be a waste of my time. I'd rather just watch The Way, Way Back again, instead.
Have you seen either or both of these movies, or maybe you just read the spoilers? What do you think? Agree or disagree with my analysis?