Movie Review: The Way, Way Back [2013]

The Way, Way Back [2013]

The Way, Way Back [2013]
Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James
Running Time: 103 minutes

At first glance, The Way, Way Back appears to be a relatively formulaic “coming of age” film, and to some extent it is. Yet it manages to take this well-worn genre and turn it into one of the most satisfying movies of the summer.

Liam James stars as Duncan, our socially awkward 14-year-old protagonist who is dragged along on a summer vacation with his family. His recently-divorced mother, Pam (a marvelous Toni Collette), her new douche-y boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his just-as-awful teenage daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin), all hop in a vintage station wagon and hit the road.

The Way, Way Back [2013]

Their destination is Trent’s oceanside beach house, and the resort town almost instantaneously turns into a “spring break for adults.” Their neighbor next door, Betty (a hilariously inappropriate Allison Janney), always has a drink in her hand, and other nearby friends, Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet), are frequent patrons to their beachside parties. While the adults are drinking and dancing to 80s tunes, Duncan is left feeling more isolated than ever.

Through the film’s early stages, we are continually shown examples of just how much Duncan is struggling to adapt to his developing adolescence. He is shy and struggles to talk to others, including the cute girl next door, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb). He is also desperately seeking some type of father figure, and it’s clear that Trent’s arrogant attitude is not a good fit. In the very first scene, Trent asks Duncan (or “buddy” as he demeaningly calls him) how he would rate himself on a scale of 1-10. Duncan, after much deliberation, frustratingly answers a “6”. Trent immediately rebuts this by stating that Duncan’s lack of motivation makes him more of a “3” in his eyes. Yeah, he’s kind of a dick.

The Way, Way Back [2013]

The movie hits its stride when Duncan meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), the free-spirited manager of the local water park, Water Wizz. Owen (and the other employees, including the more “professional” Maya Rudolph) slowly draws Duncan out of his shell by giving him a job at the park and acting as a type of father figure. Rockwell is terrific in this role, playing a character that is a bit of a “man-child” yet utterly kind to everyone he meets.

Writer/director duo Nat Faxon (of “Ben and Kate”) and Jim Rash (“Community”), both of whom also have hilarious supporting roles as park staff members, have put together a very enjoyable first effort. The Way, Way Back may feel overly familiar at times, but it still manages to be quite the crowd-pleaser. This is a film that will make you laugh, and possibly cry, and there’s no doubt that it will keep you entertained.