The Way Way Back (2013)
Directed by Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Running time: 103 minutes
14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) goes on summer vacation to his mom Pam’s (Toni Collette) new boyfriend Trent’s (Steve Carell) beach house in Cape Cod. Duncan looks set to have a dreadful vacation as Trent treats him horribly but things start looking up when he meets pretty neighbor Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) and local water park employee Owen (Sam Rockwell).
You know how some indie movies (Is this indie? Maybe not. The lines are so blurred these days) are annoyingly pretentious and no fun to watch? Well, even though it looked like it had the potential to be, The Way Way Back luckily isn’t one of those. It was great fun and is definitely close to the top of my list of 2013 movies I’ve seen.
The Way Way Back reminded me a bit of Adventureland (Wait! Don’t run away if you hated that one!). I enjoyed that film despite not being a fan of any of the stars as I loved the setting of a theme park in the 1980s. I think most people hate at least one star in Adventureland, which hurt the movie. The Way Way Back doesn’t have that problem (for me) and is a better film with a much better script.
It was originally going to be set in the 80s as well but, due to not having the budget, they had to set it in the present. But the film still has a great 1980’s feel to it, which is a big plus to me as I love that cheesy decade. They even left in things like Duncan singing REO Speedwagon (Can you get more “80’s cheese” than that?! Maybe with some Journey…) and Owen quoting Bonnie Tyler & using Pac-Man to explain his whole philosophy on life. Oh I loved all that! And I loved the water park setting as there were a lot of these in my neck of the woods and I miss those lovely, sunny 80’s summers (especially the sunny part now that I live in England!).
Yes, it’s a “coming of age” story but I love a good coming of age story when done well. Liam James is great as Duncan, a very likeable shy and awkward boy who is almost non-existent to his father and his new wife while his mother’s new boyfriend constantly belittles him and bosses him around. Now, Steve Carell isn’t for everyone (me included) but he’s truly excellent in this role, which is FAR different from his comedic roles. He’s a total prick to Duncan and you’ll seriously want to punch him in the face, especially during the “three” talk. But his character doesn’t go overboard – he feels very much like a real person as, unfortunately, there are many people just like him. And Toni Collette is very good as Duncan’s mom, who is just trying to keep things together after her divorce and doesn’t like seeing Duncan so unhappy.
But! Things aren’t all sad & depressing in the film. Duncan finds a girl’s bike in the garage one day and cycles to a water park called Water Wizz where he befriends Sam Rockwell’s Owen, who offers Duncan a job at the park. The water park scenes are by far the highlight of the film. Owen is an easygoing, laidback (probably too laidback) guy who, predictably but hilariously, helps turn Duncan’s life around and makes him finally feel like he belongs somewhere. I’ve never been quite sure how I feel about Sam Rockwell but I LOVED him in this. He’s hilarious but also so sweet as the seemingly bad role model for Duncan who in reality turns out to be the most positive male influence in Duncan’s life.
There are other good characters in the film, such as Maya Rudolph as the Water Wizz employee always trying to get Owen to behave more responsibly, AnnaSophia Robb’s Susanna as the cute girl-next-door who befriends Duncan, and Allison Janney as Susanna’s irresponsible mother (Typical annoying, mouthy, and nosy neighbor but she’s SO damn funny in this!). However, the best thing about the movie is definitely the friendship between Duncan & Owen.
The Way Way Back is a great coming of age film that gets just the right balance between comedy and drama without being overly sentimental. The characters feel real as do their relationships. I really can’t think of one negative thing to say about The Way Way Back – it’s a thoroughly enjoyable film and one of my favorites of the year.
My Rating: 8.5/10