The Way, Way Back (2013)

The Way Way BackReluctantly, 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) goes on vacation with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) to a beach house owned by her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin).  While Trent introduces Pam to the neighbours — including borderline alcoholic Betty (Allison Janney), and couple Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet) — Duncan fetches Steph’s old bicycle from the shed and sets off to explore the area. After days spent in solitude at Water Wizz, a local amusement park, Duncan is hired by manager Owen (Sam Rockwell) and, empowered by his new colleagues, begins to come out of his shell, befriending Betty’s daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb).

Go to the cinema during summer and you’ll notice that most children are hunting Horcruxes, generally saving the world from evildoers or dazzling the audience with wit and intelligence that belies an inner maturity. In fact, adolescence on screen has become almost unrecogniseably idealised. Directed by first-timers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Way, Way Back feels almost shockingly realistic by comparison; Duncan is not heroic, laugh-a-minute or played by a twenty year-old, but an often excruciatingly awkward teenager who is still only just on the cusp of understanding the world around him.

It’s not all stress and anxiety, thankfully, but these trials and tribulations make the small successes all the sweeter. Lesser comedy-dramas might have hurried over the tougher elements — probably by editing them into a montage and playing pop song over the top — but The Way, Way Back gets the balance just right. As Sam Rockwell begins to work his magic on Liam James’ Duncan the film relaxes alongside its young star, blossoming even as the charmed smiles turn into full-bodied laughs. It feels comparable to a real summer: endless, at least until you don’t actually want it to end. Like Where The Wild Things Are it’s a film about childhood rather than a film aimed at children, but that doesn’t mean that kids won’t enjoy it too.

It’s a captivating performance by James, who genuinely seems to grow and develop before your very eyes. Even when he’s sulking he manages to be sympathetic, which is what sets The Way, Way Back apart from the similarly themed by nowhere near as effortlessly likeable Adventureland. Rockwell too is superb as the laid back Owen, but the film is careful not to worship at his flip-flopped feet, or to martyr him in the way that Judd Apatow tends to treat his own manchildren. Maya Rudolph continues this comparison as Water Wizz’s second-in command, proving far more likeable than she ever did in Bridesmaids. Largely, however, the kids make the biggest impression, with Robb and the lazy-eyed River Alexander even managing to steal scenes from the usually indomitable Janney.

The Way, Way Back is a terrific watch. By being less sentimental and nostalgic as you might expect, Faxon and Rash’s film is all the sweeter and more feel-good as a result. Strong performances, an unobtrusive script and an uncompromising faith in its story make this one of the most remarkable films of the summer, and shows that the stakes don’t have to be sky high to keep its audience interested.



About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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