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"The Way, Way Back" Review

"The Way, Way Back" (2013)

The Way Way Back
Source: Fox Searchlight

In this coming-of-age comedy, Duncan (Liam James) is not having the best of summers. Instead of spending his time off with his dad in California, Duncan is on vacation with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her new boyfriend, the controlling Trent (Steve Carell) and Trent's daughter, the very stuck-up Steph (Zoe Levin).

When we first meet Duncan in the back of Trent's old, classic station wagon, Duncan is being grilled by his potential stepfather and is asked, "On a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think you are?" Duncan, when forced to come up with an answer, rates himself a 6. Trent, on the other hand, feels that Duncan is a 3. From the beginning of the story, we see that Duncan, who is sitting at the opposite end of the station wagon with his back to everyone else, just doesn't quite fit in with the rest of his new family.

The family begins the summer with a trip to a small seaside town where Trent has a beach house. The town is inhabited by summer regulars, including next door neighbor Betty (Allison Janney), who seems determined to spend the summer in a boozy haze, along with Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet), a married couple who seem to think the summer is one long frat party.

Duncan's world is grim at the start of the film. He struggles to find any sort of routine in a house that doesn't really feel like home. Trent expects Duncan to follow his set of strict rules while his mom focuses on her new relationship, which makes him feel more alone and miserable. Adding to Duncan's problems, his feeble attempts to talk to Betty's daughter, Susanna (Anna Sophia Robb), fail miserably.

Duncan then stumbles into the world of a small water park named, Water Wizz, and encounters someone who changes his life. When he meets the manager of the park, Owen (Sam Rockwell), who decides to take Duncan under his wing to help Duncan discover who he truly is.

The Way Way Back PS1
Source: Fox Searchlight

James, who plays Duncan, does a sensational job as one of the most awkward teens in the history of film. Duncan is so serious and insecure when Owen discovers him in the water park, he jokingly tells Duncan, "I'm going to have to ask you to leave. You're having way too much fun and it's making everyone uncomfortable," which prompts Duncan to begin to leave. Owen reels him back into the park. After spending an afternoon with him, Owen decides that Duncan should start working at Water Wizz.

The directors / writers of the film, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, create a potential romance between Duncan and Susanna. It works because the relationship never seems forced. There dynamic has a natural feel as it is maintained between two teens who are unhappy with their parents, bored with their surroundings and eventually start to gravitate toward each other.

The cast is outstanding and filled with interesting comedic actors. Maya Rudolph, whose character, Catlin, runs the water park in spite of Owen's antics. Rudolph plays her character with an easy grace that shows off her comedic timing. Toni Collette, as Duncan's mom, seems to show every emotion on her face, as she becomes torn between her new relationship and the love for her son. The only weak point in the cast is Carell who plays Trent in a very predictable and straight-forward way. The script wastes the talented Carell in a role that could be played by any 40-something male in Hollywood.

While the film may be about James's character, the star of the film is Sam Rockwell whose performance is reminiscent of Bill Murray's role in the 1979 film "Meatballs." Rockwell plays Owen as a man determined to have a good time no matter what the occasion. The heart and soul of the film is Owen and while his antics can be a little bit frustrating to the other characters; we know that he cares about the people who work at the water park and sees them not just as employees but also as friends. He is the only character in the film who can see through Duncan's defenses and figures out that Duncan just needs a push (more like a shove or two) to come out of his shell. Rockwell has great chemistry with James but most especially with Rudolph, as the two play off each other with ease.

I thoroughly enjoyed this well-paced and sharply edited film so much so that I call it a, "check your watch" film. As the film is playing, you are not checking because you are wishing the film is near the end, but checking your watch, hoping that the film is not ending anytime soon.

My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again The Way, Way Back Website

"The Way, Way Back" is playing in the Atlanta, GA area at AMC Phipps Plaza 14 and Landmark Midtown Art
Main Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight

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