The recent acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin has turned Ryan Coogler’s extraordinary debut feature and Sundance darling, Fruitvale Station, into the must see movie of the moment. But even without this eerie coincidence, Fruitvale Station – about the death of Oscar Grant at the hands of a white BART police officer on New Year’s Day 2009 – stands on its own as a remarkable piece of emotional filmmaking. Taking tips from Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, and Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, Coogler succeeds in making a powerful political statement by ignoring the politics of the situation all-together. While a stirring social commentary about race relations in America boils underneath the surface, Coogler is less concerned with the civics of the situation and more focused on the heart of it. This isn’t a political story. It’s a human one.
About a year and half ago, at the 84th Academy Awards, audience members at the Hollywood Highland Theater and at home watched as Angelina Jolie announced Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash as winners of the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Descendants. The three collaborators rushed to the podium, with Payne making the speech on behalf of the collective, but no one was focusing on the speech. Everyone was looking at the two standing on either side of Payne, scratching their heads, realizing that the Dean from NBC’s Community and the guy from all those Broken Lizard movies had each just won an Oscar for screenwriting. It’s true, Jim Rash and Nat Faxon have flown under the radar, playing small comedic roles on television and in film, but they were thrust into the limelight after winning the Oscar for The Descendants and are back with their directorial debut, The Way Way Back. Rash and Faxon wrote, directed, and produced the film and even had small roles as employees at the water park where the film takes place. Reel Reactions recently got to sit down with the writing/directing team to discuss their latest feature.
Early on in The Way Way Back, Sam Rockwell, playing the wise and quick-witted Owen, tells an awkwardly shy Duncan, played by Liam James, that, “You cut your own path”. In the moment, Rockwell’s character is just making a reference to Pac-Man, yet this message seems to be personified throughout the entirety of this coming-of-age story written and directed by Oscar-winners Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. Like many summer coming-of-age films before it, The Way Way Back tells the story of a shut-in teenager who feels utterly lost in his less-than-perfect home life. Though the formula has been used before, Rash and Faxon are able to weave a layered story that is not just universally relatable, but one that is perhaps the most likeable and most satisfying movie of the summer.
Like nearly all of the summer’s blockbusters, Despicable Me 2, the highly anticipated sequel to the unexpected 2010 smash hit, is an entertaining disappointment. Eye-poppingly colorful, sweetly zany, and impeccably voiced, this new adventure featuring super-villain-turned-hero Gru (Steve Carell) and his yellow minions is bound to strike a chord with families and clean up at the box office, but those looking for the same gonzo-spirit and infectious charm that made the original such a breathe of fresh air three years ago may have trouble finding the sweet spots they’re so desperately craving.