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'Way, Way Back' and 'Mud:' Anti-blockbusters


The summer blockbuster movies are never on my “must see” list, or any other list.  I put them into the same category as roller coasters; I have enough violent ups-and-downs and twists-and-turns in my life as it is, thanks.  Also, I prefer a movie that lingers in your mind after you’ve left the parking lot.

With that in mind, I highly recommend two pictures I’ve seen and thoroughly enjoyed this summer: “The Way, Way Back” and “Mud.”  The two have a great deal in common:  They’re “coming-of-age” stories about boys in their mid-teens.  Having been a teenage boy and now being the father of a teenage boy,  these are resonant, satisfying stories.

“The Way, Way Back” stars Steve Carrell as a boyfriend who way, way oversteps his bounds in trying to relate to the awkward, socially inept 14-year-old son of his girlfriend (played by Toni Collette):

“Mud” features Matthew McConaughey as a mysterious, charismatic drifter with a secret (is there any other kind?) who enlists the help of two Southern Arkansas teenage boys:

“Mud” has been in the theaters for some time, and in fact, may be hard to find at this point; won’t be too long before it’s out on video.  “The Way, Way Back” came out very recently, but is also hard to find, probably because it’s crowded out by the blockbusters.  We saw it at the delightful Magnolia Theater in Uptown Dallas.  “Way Back” is generally sunny; “Mud” is brooding and moody, though it has plenty of humor.

A common theme in the two films:  Being a 14-year-old boy is tough enough without parents’ marital clashes and misguided romantic entanglements.  While both “Mud” and “Way Back” have mostly received good reviews, I’ve noticed a few critics who roll their cynical eyes at another “coming-of-age” movie.  My view:  I’ve heard quite a few blues tunes in my time, but I don’t mind hearing another one if it’s played and sung by a master.  The “coming of age” story is elemental, and these are masterful, character-driven films.

If the summer blockbusters seem like cotton-candy to you, you’ll probably relish the juicy burgers of “The Way, Way Back” and “Mud.”

John Mark Dempsey is the host of the public interest program The Blacklands Café from KETR News. Dempsey is also the play-by-play announcer for Commerce Tigers Football on 88.9 FM and on ketr.org.