A few years back, I remember being bombarded with the marketing campaign for Slum Dog Millionaire. Every advert and poster I saw seemed to claim that Slum Dog was the ‘feel good movie of the year.”
I was totally taken in by that campaign and I came out of the cinema feeling like I have been had. Slum Dog is one of the most depressing films I have ever seen. Maybe I still don’t have a firm grasp of the English language after living in this country for 20 years and ‘feel good’ means something else.
The same ‘feel good’ line was tossed about when it came to the film The way way back, and although I was weary of being burnt again I was told it was the real deal.
This film is about an introverted 14 year old named Duncan (Liam James) and his summer holiday with his mother, Pam(Toni Collette), and her (douche-bag) boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell).
The film wastes no times providing you with essential information, Duncan is still struggling with the break of his parents’ marriage and this is made worse by the fact that his mum’s new boyfriend, played by the surprisingly excellent Steve Carell, is an utter and complete nob-head. The opening scene where Trent asks Duncan to rate himself out of 10 made me so spitting mad that I had to pause the film for a couple of minutes. In that one scene, the film has you already sympathising with Duncan and wanting to see Trent end up with elephant poo at his nose.
I also spent the majority of the movie swearing at Duncan’s mother, Pam, for completely neglecting her son and not realising how much he is hurting. There is a heart-breaking scene where she tearfully tells her son that she ignores Trent’s ugly side because that’s what adult relationships are like. I wanted to scream in her face and throw elephant dung at her big mouth.
So where is the ‘feel good’ in the movie? Well, the fuzzy feeling in your tummy begins as soon as Duncan meets Owen (played by the always fantastic Sam Rockwell), a manager at the local water amusement park. Owen takes Duncan under his wing and, as soon as he does, the lad quickly flourishes and becomes more confident and self-assured. There is a scene where Duncan is forced into a dance off with a gang full of youfs which just makes you smile like a silly gap-toothed elephant.
The moments between Owen and Duncan feel so genuine and heartfelt that, again, you curse Pam out. You get the real sense that when Duncan is with Owen, it is the first time he has been happy in a very long time.
The cast in this film is surprisingly stellar – C.J Cregg almost steals the show, but everyone else puts in a top performance. I just want mention Carell again – his turn in this film is such a surprise that I have re-evaluated my opinion of him as an actor. Many famous comedians have tried to make the transition into serious acting, with the majority failing, but Carell could do a Jim Carrey. I hate Trent’s gutts in this film and that speaks volumes to what an incredible job Carell did playing the character.
I have been lucky enough to come from a family where the parents were split up by death – but I grew up with friends that have had to live through their parents divorcing. The sympathy I felt for them, is the same that I feel for Duncan in this film. The feel good factor of this film comes from watching the scars from experience his parents split up heal to a point where you are satisfied as an audience member that Duncan will be alright.