Plot – Shy 14-year-old Duncan goes on a summer holiday with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park – The Way Way Back.
Released – 2013
Jim Rash and Nat Faxon’s directorial debut, The Way Way Back, is a hugely poignant and memorable coming of age comedy-drama proves their Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar win for The Descendants wasn’t a fluke as it tenderly follows a sullen, withdrawn 14-year-old adolescent as he attempts to find his place in the world and people that will accept him for who he is.
The Way Way Back may remind the viewer of Greg Mottola’s 2009 Adventureland and while the setting is quite similar (taking place mostly at a water park in a small sea-side town during the summer holidays) and both follow an adolescent male struggling to fit in, I found Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton’s 2006 masterpiece Little Miss Sunshine a closer companion, not only because Collette and Carell appear in both movies but also the quirky comedy, heartfelt moments and witty writing gave both films a similar vibe. That said, writer/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash made a film that, for all its familiarities, still felt fresh. Capable of making you laugh one minute, shock you the next. With this exquisite mixture of emotions, you can’t help but feel drawn you towards the characters and revel in their journeys.
Much of the film’s merits are down to the talents of the assembled cast, all of which give just terrific performances. James is a revelation as Duncan. Easily conveying the mixture of bittersweet emotions that teenagers go through. The anger, frustration, and excitement felt nuanced and authentic, a true delight to behold. Another treat was seeing Carell playing a more unsympathetic role as Trent, someone who wants the world to believe he is a loving step-father when in truth he is weak and deceitful man. Collette is such a consummate actress as Pam. I firmly believe it’s impossible for her to give a bad performance, and here this fact is backed up entirely. Her subtle expressions and body language show the emotional turmoil that Pam is struggling with, unwilling to leave the man that cheats on her for fear that she won’t find anyone better. Sam Rockwell as a complicated man-child Owen was also a pleasure, delivering or setting up much of the film’s humorous moments in a similar way to his role in Jojo Rabbit.
On the surface, The Way Way Back could look like a dozen movies that can out over the years before it, but in truth is one of those bittersweet comedies/dramas that stays with you for a long time afterwards and draws out a wide range of mixed emotions as the plot progresses. Boasting much more heart than I had originally expected and rewarding you upon repeat viewings.