The Way Way Back [2013]

Is there a point where a film becomes so uncontroversial, so amiable, so predictable, that there’s nothing to say? This film is a perfectly functional comedy – I got Kermode’s requisite 6 laughs from Alison Janey alone.

There is just one scene I think needs a little discussion. The guard in charge of a water slide asks nubile young women to “hold” so he can check them out. It’s a sequence of about 1 minute, casually objectificatifying a woman to cheer up an adolescent male who’se struggling with an evil stepfather. I use the term “woman” loosely because the actress looked uncomfortably young. It’s a leering sequence that feels like it’s from a different film. The woman is completely passive in the scene – merely standing there, in the camera’s view. So it’s less offensive than the average scene of this type.

What made it feel so out of place was that the film seemed to treat women with a reasonable level of interest and respect in every other scene. I’d estimate that just over half the cast were women, it easily passed the Bechdel Test, and no woman seemed to exist in the story purely to service a man’s story, though the story was about father-son relationships.

I think that the filmmaker’s intent was not for the film to leer, but to allow the male gaze of the protagonist to leer. Given the basic script and material they were working from, their decision to casually buy into the straight male gaze was disappointing; not least because it shows how deeply encoded that concept is in cinematography. Yet, off-hand, I am not sure how I would have filmed the scene differently; perhaps simply keeping the male gazer in shot, rather than letting the camera solely focus on the “object” of his view.

As a result of that scene, I must conclude that this film was almost totally harmless.

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One Response to The Way Way Back [2013]

  1. Freya Sacksen says:

    After seeing the trailer, Tim and I were conflicted about whether or not to go see it. On the one hand, parent/child stories are always interesting to see told, especially since Hollywood is far more invested in romance stories. On the other hand, the trailer showed the ‘hold’ scene, and we both felt deeply uncomfortable with the idea of a movie where a mentor-figure would encourage that sort of casual misogyny.

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