[Review] The Way Way Back (2013)

the-way-way-backFrom the opening scene THE WAY WAY BACK was really grabbing, it just throws the audience into a very awkward situation and immediately there was a connection to young Duncan (Liam James). His mothers boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) is giving him a talk while they are in the car, basically insulting Trent, although he tries to hide it. This sets up a lot, we see from the get go that Duncan is a quiet teenage boy, extremely awkward and unsure of himself. This type of character from the get go in something I personally could relate to, and surely most of us have been that awkward teen. Haven’t we all had that coming of age experience? This is Duncan’s story and it is a damn fine one at that.

You see Duncan’s parents are divorced, his mother Pam (Toni Collette) is now dating Trent, and their families are on a roadtrip to Trent’s beach house. Also in tow is Trent’s teenage daughter Steph (Zoe Levin), who seems to not care for the situation or Duncan. Once they arrive at the beach house, Duncan feels lonely and left out. Although his neighbour Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) catches his eye and the two slowly begin to talk. This isn’t enough to keep Duncan at home, as he wonders to the local Water Wizz water park and soon enough he strikes up a friendship with manager Owen (Sam Rockwell) and gets a job there. Hidden from his family he becomes a new person while working at the park, finding confidence and friends that he didn’t expect.

While on the surface the film isn’t exactly anything new, we have seen these types of films before, the characters really set it apart from others. Duncan is a really unique character, he manages to be quiet and not a boy of many words, yet he remains one of the only really likeable characters at first. The adults don’t come off very well, especially Trent who really seems like a jackass. It is hard to see what his mother sees in him, and the fact she goes along with Trent’s humiliating of Duncan (the boat incident comes to mind) is even more confusing. As we find out though, her motivations are clear, she’s lonely and she’s been hurt and she has a need to have someone. Trent himself acts different around Pam, and really tries to be what is seen as good. But he is hiding his own secrets that cause issues.


The likeable adults come around when Duncan gets to the water park, Owen is not a serious person and he seems to see that Duncan is depressed so he does his best to actually give him something. With the job, Duncan finds confidence and before long Owen is like the older brother he never had. Duncan does gravitate towards Owen because he needs that father figure type, his own father has abandoned him. While their relationship feels more like a brotherly bond, the reasoning behind it is very clear. There are other characters at the water park, and they have their own issues including Owen and Caitlin (Maya Rudolph), who have this on/off thing. Duncan is witness to these things, and it seems that through the friendship Owen himself grows up a bit too.

The cast here are all excellent, Liam James plays the awkward teenager perfectly, he is without a voice. He plays it quite perfectly, the pain he’s in is clear from his eyes and he tries to hide it by being quiet and not wanting to really participate with anything. But once his world is opened up, he portrays the growth within his character, to the point where yes he has found a voice and its believable. Steve Carell really plays against type here, to be frank his character is an asshole, it isn’t often one finds themselves hating his character but he made it easy. His own range is really shown here, he isn’t just a comedic actor, he can play serious and he can play someone who is self centered. Toni Collette has played this sort of character before, what works so well is that she shares chemistry with Carell and also James. The pain her own character has comes across, and while she cares for her son you can tell there is a selfish part of her as well. I haven’t mentioned Allison Janey yet, she plays the over bearing neighbour. She is there for her mouth, she doesn’t hold back and there are many laughs to be had from her. It is apparent why she is that way, and who can blame her? AnnaSophia Robb was quite good as the semi love interest, the chemistry was there and she was believable.


Lets head to the water park to Sam Rockwell, the same actually steals the film. He’s a great actor, able to play any sort of character. Owen is perhaps not typical for Rockwell, but it certainly fit him like a glove. He’s a man who refuses to grow up, he’s stuck in the same type of routine and he basically acts the way he does to keep himself entertained. Once Duncan hits the picture things do change a little, the friendship almost forces him to man up a bit. He becomes the mentor and he does so with the best of intentions, this really comes across quite well through his performance. Then we have Maya Rudolph who I kind of wish would have been in it more, because she is excellent. She’s the frustrated one, stuck in a life she didn’t expect for herself and sick of waiting for Owen to finally grow up. The relationship isn’t a huge focus but through their scenes the pair make it work well with what they have. Writers and directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash appear in the film as water park employees and yes they are pretty funny, while they don’t add awhole lot it just adds to the dynamic at the park.

THE WAY WAY BACK is a great film, the story is touching and easy to relate to. It is really well written by Faxon and Rash and they have done a rather solid job directing it. The pair know their craft well and with such a great cast their material really shines. This is a film I actually can’t wait to watch again, I have found myself often thinking about it and smiling when I do. It connected with me on a very personal level, and I hope this film finds a great audience because it does need to be seen.


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