The Way, Way Back Review
by Jake Peffer
The summer usually brings a few quality limited-release films that end up being great. I got the pleasure of finally seeing The Way, Way Back which turned out to be one of those great limited release summer films. In the film we follow Duncan (Liam James) a very awkward teenager who is on a trip with his mom Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin). They are taking a summer trip to Trent’s beach house hoping to spend some quality time together. Only problem is that Trent is an ass to Duncan most of the time and Duncan would much rather be with his father. Things don’t start out too well once they get to the beach. Not only is Trent being his usual self but his mom is spending all her time with Trent, not to mention there is an annoying neighbor played by Allison Janney that doesn’t make things better. Duncan eventually makes his way out to a rundown water park run by Owen (Sam Rockwell), a joker who always likes to have fun. They form a unique friendship and Duncan finally finds a place where he feels wanted.
This is one of those coming of age stories that certainly has a lot going for it. Not only does it feature a great cast but the story itself is something a lot of people can relate to. Many people have experienced having a jerk for a stepfather or mom’s boyfriend and many people have grown up being somewhat shy and socially awkward so it’s really easy to get invested in the story. The relationships built between Duncan and certain characters are a strength of the film. Once Duncan comes across Owen is when the film really starts to take off because Sam Rockwell is downright hilarious as Owen. Their relationship is genuine because Owen sees Duncan for who he really is and doesn’t judge him like Trent does. Duncan’s relationship with Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), the neighbor’s daughter, also feels genuine despite it being the cliche awkward boy meets pretty girl kind of relationship.
While the story does feel very familiar and features a lot we’ve seen in other films, this film is able to overcome the cliches with strong characters, great writing and wonderful performances by its cast. Directors/writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (The Descendants) know how to explore these characters and make you care about what happens to them. Even though at times the film can be somewhat depressing, the great writing and direction make it all feel real and that’s what will keep you interested throughout. Another positive here is how funny the film turns out to be. Most of the laughs come from Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney but I was laughing out loud almost throughout the whole film.
Like I mentioned before, this film has a great cast and every one of them gives a good performances. Liam James is perfectly cast in the role of Duncan, he isn’t the best actor out there but he fit that role and played it exactly how it should be. The younger actors in the film, James along with AnnaSohpia Robb, handle their own going up against a lot of veteran actors. AnnaSophia Robb usually always gives a good performance and here is no different, another reason why she’s one of my favorite young actresses. Everyone including Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet and Maya Rudolph all do a good job here. It was nice to see Carell play a different role and I think he pulled it off quite well. The standout in the cast, which is the case in almost every film he’s in, is Sam Rockwell. Rockwell is so hysterically funny here but makes his character very down to earth and never goes over the top or makes his character traits get annoying.
Verdict: The Way, Way Back is sweet, funny and a great coming of age film. With great writing, direction and a cast of colorful characters this is certainly one of the best films of the year.