The Way, Way Back
Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, AnnaSophia Robb, Liam James.
Written and directed by Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Comedy, Drama, 1hr 36mins. Rated M for drug and sexual references.
Summertime Coming of Age films hit their hey day in the 80s with classics like Stand By Me and Dirty Dancing, and even the extreme distillation, Wet Hot American Summer.
The Way, Way Back, by Oscar winning screenwriters of The Descendants, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, returns to that well trodden ground, only with a cynical take on topic of growing up and coming into your own.
Awkward to the point of painful teen Duncan (Liam James) is trapped on a seaside holiday with his mother (Toni Collett), her emotional bully of a boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) and his narcissistic daughter (Zoe Levin).
Unable to navigate the complex, self indulgent world of his peers and appalled by the shallow attempts to create a family by his mum and Trent, Duncan finds a place for himself at the local water park, Whizz World. There, he strikes up a rare friendship with the park’s owner, Owen (Sam Rockwell), and discovers he’s not at odds with the world as he thought.
With its heart firmly in the 80s – REO Speedwagon and Mister Mister feature on the sound track and Whizz World has been frozen in time since 1983 – The Way, Way Back is, like Duncan, a little lost until Owen turns up.
Rockwell’s special brand of charming cockiness and heart string pulling vulnerability really shines here as the older brother figure outsider Duncan didn’t know he needed.
With Owen’s gregarious care as a contrast to the self obsession of the other adults in his life, Duncan starts to gain the self confidence – in the best tradition of 80s Coming of Age films, by break dancing – to make a stand.
As with their first film, The Descendants, Faxon and Rash use an idyllic setting to frame less than idyllic family dynamics, with the laid back holiday vibe at odds with the central characters’ turmoil.
Add a selection of wacky supporting characters – writer Jim Rash’s comic turn as Liam, the Whizz World kiosk jockey with big plans, is stand-out – The result is a compassionate, heart-warming, oddly funny and nostalgic little film.
The finale may not having you cheering exactly, but you’ll definitely leave the cinema with a spring in your step and REO Speedwagon on the mind.
This review appeared in The Kapi-Mana News, August 12, 2013.